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.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
William C. Elbert, of Whittemore, points to one of his old Army uniforms now on display in the American Legion Post 425 building in Whittemore. He said that’s the uniform he was wearing when he was wounded on March 4, 1967, in South Vietnam.
-Messenger photo by Bill Shea
Stuart Simonson displays a Purple Heart coin he received Thursday evening during the Purple Heart Day Celebration at American Legion Post 425 in Whittemore. Simonson is an Army veteran who was wounded in 1970 during the Vietnam War.
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.
Betts, of Whittemore, was drafted into the Army in September 1969. He was trained as an assistant machine gunner and radio operator and was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division. He arrived in South Vietnam in April 1970.
He said that because he carried ammunition for the machine gun plus his own gear, he was loaded down with 120 pounds of gear whenever his unit went out into the jungle on patrol.
Betts was wounded on June 10, 1970, during the invasion of Cambodia. He said he received a minor shrapnel wound in the shoulder. He said he was treated and sent back to his unit without ever being admitted to a hospital.
He was discharged from the Army in April 1971.
William C. Elbert
Elbert, of Whittemore, was drafted into the Army in April 1966. He was assigned to the 9th Infantry Division and arrived in South Vietnam on Christmas Day 1966.
He was wounded on the evening of March 4, 1967. At the time he was sitting on a sandbag bunker in a small outpost 23 miles south of Saigon when enemy troops threw a grenade into the compound. He jumped off the bunker and ran to help some wounded soldiers. As he did so, another grenade landed in the outpost and a piece of shrapnel he described as "no bigger than the eraser of a lead pencil" went into his right forearm. He initially didn't realize he was hit. The shrapnel, he said, frayed two nerves and an artery.
Elbert was first taken to the 24th Evacuation Hospital in Long Binh, South Vietnam. After a week there, he was flown to the 106th General Hospital in Yokohama, Japan. He was a patient there for three months.
Upon being released from the hospital, he was sent to a unit in Pusan, South Korea. He was discharged from the Army on Jan. 21, 1968.
Simonson, of Whittemore, was a member of the Army's 25th Infantry Division. He was a radio telephone operator who carried a 25-pound radio set on his back.
Simonson was wounded on May 6, 1970, as American troops invaded Cambodia during the Vietnam War. His unit was securing an area on the Cambodian side of a river so that Army engineers could build a pontoon bridge. Enemy forces began shelling the Americans, and a piece of shrapnel hit him on the left side of his neck. He said the metal lodged against his jugular vein, but didn't puncture it.
He returned to duty fairly quickly after being treated at a hospital.
"Our unit was really hurting for guys and the old man wanted me back there as fast as possible," he said, referring to his commanding officer.
Simonson was discharged from the Army in September 1970.
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.