Purple Heart veterans honored with stamp
BRECKENRIDGE – Lucky Hiers doesn’t think he’s so much lucky as blessed.
The Dillon man and World War II veteran was injured when German forces tossed a concussion grenade at him and two of his buddies during a gun battle in the French Alps. Hiers tried to throw the grenade back, but it exploded in his hand and knocked him into the back of the pillbox in which he was hiding.
Stunned and dazed, Hiers laid motionless on the ground as a German soldier kicked Hiers’ leg – and then moved on, thinking Hiers was dead. Decades later, Hiers decided the soldier knew he was alive but chose to spare his life instead.
Franklin D. Roosevelt awarded Hiers a Purple Heart, a decoration reserved for those wounded or killed in the line of duty.
Hiers was among six Purple Heart veterans who spoke at a U.S. Postal Service ceremony unveiling a new 37-cent stamp featuring the medal. The other veterans also agreed to let Hiers, the oldest veteran among them, buy the first 100 stamps.
“It’s nice to get some recognition after all these years,” said Jim Pardowsky, a Marine veteran who earned his Purple Heart two days after his birthday in 1968. “I always thought it would be nice to have something sooner, but better late than never.”
Most of the veterans at Friday’s unveiling reminisced about the friends and comrades they lost in wartime.
“Every time I look at this from now on, I’ll think, we didn’t get them for us,” said Carroll Quinn, a thrice-decorated Marine veteran from Fairplay. “We got them for the young men that didn’t make it. This symbol reminds me of them.”
Hiers agreed, his voice cracking as he talked about the survivor guilt he and many other veterans suffer.
“Why me?” he said. “Out of all the thousands of boys who went over in the war, why did I survive?” He added that he wakes up every day and asks if his deeds the day before have helped make America a better country.
About 20 citizens showed up for the morning ceremony, including Dennis O’Neal of Silverthorne, a Purple Heart veteran who served in the Marines and was decorated Feb. 8, 1970; Denise Rea, who spoke on behalf of her husband Rob, who served in the Army and earned his Purple Heart 35 years ago that day; and Terry Bledsoe of Breckenridge, a Purple Heart Air Force veteran who was injured in Vietnam in 1967.
Army veteran Richard Rask, who served as a helicopter pilot in Vietnam in 1964, was unable to attend.
The stamp features the medal, which depicts George Washington’s image.
Gen. Washington often rewarded soldiers with commissions or advances in rank. But in 1782, the Continental Congress ordered him to cease doing so because there wasn’t money to pay the soldiers, much less honor officers.
Historians believed Washington searched for a substitute.
He wrote that “whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author shall be permitted to wear on his facings, over his left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth or silk-edged with narrow lace or binding … The name and regiment of the persons so certified are to be enrolled in a Book of Merit.”
That paper was lost until 1932 when the U.S. War Department revived it. Elizabeth Will, who worked in the Office of the Quartermaster General, redesigned the new medal. The new decoration is metal instead of perishable cloth and is made in the shape of a purple heart bordered with gold and with a bust of Washington in the middle and the Washington coat-of-arms at the top.
Jane Stebbins can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 228 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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