Purple Hearts

WHITTEMORE – It’s the one military decoration that no soldier, sailor, airman or Marine wants to receive.

The Purple Heart is awarded to American troops who are killed or wounded in battle.

Three Kossuth County men who received that decoration were honored by fellow veterans and community members Thursday evening during the Purple Heart Day Celebration held at American Legion Post 425 in Whittemore.

Army veterans Greg Betts, William C. Elbert and Stuart Simonson were wounded when they were hit by shrapnel in separate incidents during the Vietnam War.

All three live with the memories of what happened to them. They also have vivid recollections of fellow soldiers who were killed.

“I lost a lot of good friends – a lot of them,” Elbert said.

Simonson said survivors guilt is “a tremendous, tremendous emotional force.”

About 30 people were at the American Legion building in Whittemore Thursday evening for a brief presentation and a reception.

Iowa lawmakers have designated Aug. 7 as Purple Heart Day, according to Ron Askland, the commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post 425. That’s a group of boys and men whose parents or grandparents served in the United States military.

Askland, the sole speaker during the event, said that date was chosen because on Aug. 7, 1782, Gen. George Washington designed a new award for enlisted soldiers. It was a purple cloth heart with a silver braid around the edges. The award, he said, was for “any singularly meritorious action.”

Only three of those awards were issued, he added.

According to Askland, the modern Purple Heart was created in 1931, by Elizabeth Will, a design specialist for the Army. The medal is a purple enameled heart within a bronze border that has an image of Washington on it.

“Today, the Sons of the American Legion Post 425 would like to pay tribute to all the men and women who have received a Purple Heart,” Askland said.

He gave Betts, Elbert and Simonson oversized coins bearing an image of the Purple Heart. Called challenge coins, they serve as a reminder of each man’s sacrifice on behalf of his country.

They additionally have a more light-hearted function, according to veterans gathered Thursday evening. They said any veteran who joins fellow veterans at their favorite watering hole may end up paying for a round of drinks if they can’t pull a challenge coin out of their pocket or billfold.

Thursday’s event was the fourth Purple Heart Day Celebration held in Whittemore.