Purple Hearts and a Little Politics

Just this last weekend, I was talking to a gentleman. I won’t say who or where he was, because I don’t know if he’d approve of tossing his name or establishment into this posting.

He was talking about his past life and mentioned that he was in Vietnam. I asked, “What branch?” He said, “I was in the Navy. I was a corpsman in a unit of Marines.”

I did the polite and necessary thing, stuck my hand out, and said, “Welcome home, Doc. Thank you for what you did.” He shook it. The universal nickname for corpsmen (medics, in Army language) in Marine units is “Doc,” and even though they’re still a different species, they are wholeheartedly accepted in the ranks.

We talked for a while. He had a stunning history in a combat unit. He’d been hit with a rocket blast in the chest that shredded his flak jacket, bruised his ribs fiercely, threw him up against a tree where he sat, stunned, until the platoon NCO grabbed what was left of the jacket, hoisted him to his feet, and growled, “Goddamnit, Doc, you’re always goofing off.” Another time, he was working on a wounded Marine when a bullet ripped under his helmet, grazing his jaw.

He saw other things I won’t mention here. Gruesome and heart-wrenching. It involved torn up and dead young Americans.

The gentleman said, “I never got a Purple Heart.” I said, “You should’ve. You rated it.” He shook his head. “After the time I spent with severed limbs, pushing stomachs back into kids’ bodies, pushing eyeballs back into their heads, was I going to go for the same award they got? Because I got grazed a little?  No way.”

This is the reality of combat in the service of our country, or one of the realities. Some Purple Hearts are less expensive than others, but they are not cheap. Not cheap! And they are not something to glossed over.

If one is offered a Purple Heart without ever having been in combat, the humanly decent thing to do is say, “No. Thank you for your service. You deserve this. I don’t.” I don’t know the politics of the gentleman I spoke with last weekend, but his own words clearly affirm that notion.

So when someone says, “I always wanted a Purple Heart,” the words ring hollow and offensive. You wanted shrapnel or bullets ripping your flesh? Really? When that statement is doubled down with, “So I got this cheap,” the offensive flavor turns to reprehensible. And it becomes a comment on the character who can voice such a callow sentiment so cavalierly.

— Grandpa

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