With a new conflict raging in the middle east and two others still claiming victims, Monday’s observance of “Purple Heart Day” at Mount Vernon Estate carried a poignancy most in attendance would have rather not experienced. All there knew first hand the true cost of war.
Held every August 7 at the Purple Heart Monument just outside the main entrance to the Estate, the ceremony honors all who have paid a life changing price to maintain America’s freedom throughout her wars. This year’s theme was “When a Soldier goes to war, the Family and Community go to war. When a Soldier is wounded, the Family and Community are also wounded.”
That truism was no more evident than in the presence Sergeant John P. Keith, Jr., a wounded veteran of the Iraq war who served as one of the two main speakers. His Humvee was hit by an insurgent missile just two days before Veteran’s Day, November 9, 2004.
Keith, a Combat Medical Specialist, was one of three who suffered life -long disabilities as a result of that hit. Three others died. He had to have his leg amputated at Walter Reed Army Hospital.
“It is absolutely true that everyone is wounded when a soldier is wounded. When I was going through rehabilitation therapy at Walter Reed, if I had a set back I felt like I was letting my family down,” he said.
“The community is a family whether that be your military community, your family or whatever. The Order of the Purple Heart is my new family. We all have to rely on one another,” Keith told the small audience seated under the shade trees in front of him.
He was followed by Tatyana Cobb, a European combat-wounded Army veteran. She serves as Region I President, Ladies Auxiliary, Military Order of the Purple Heart. Her husband, Col. Steven Cobb, U.S.Army (Ret), served as master of ceremonies for Monday’s event.
Also a Purple Heart recipient, having served in Vietnam and Desert Storm, Col. Cobb is Commander, Department of Virginia, Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Beginning in April 2004, the Cobb’s have been meeting returning wounded veterans at least three times a week at Andrews Air Force
Base. They also visit and support patients at Walter Reed Army Medical Center and VA Medical Center, both in Washington, DC, and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, MD.
“I have told all returning veterans thank you from all Americans. I wouldn’t be here today if our veterans had not gone through the hell of war after war for this nation,” said Tatyana Cobb.
She also thanked the group of Gold Star mothers and wives in the audience for their sacrifice. “For them the war, which ever war, is never really over,” she said.
Gold Star mothers, wives and families grew out of World War II. Families would hang a small banner in the window of their home if someone from that family was serving in the military. The star on the banner was blue. If that person was killed in action the star became gold.
Seated in front of Keith was his wife, Pam, and young daughter, Alyssa. There son Pearson was in day care. Looking at his wife Keith said, “She is my hero. She was with me every day through a year of rehabilitation.” Keith remains on active duty at Fort Belvoir.
As part of the ceremony a wreath is placed at the monument which is the starting point of the national Purple Heart Trail.
The commemoration of the medal and its predecessor, the Badge of Military Merit, is hosted annually by the Greater Washington Chapter 353 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart and the chapter’s Ladies Auxiliary.
George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit in Newburgh, NY, August 7,1782. General Douglas MacArthur issued War Department General Orders February 22, 1932, replacing that badge with the Purple Heart Medal.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart is the only veterans organization chartered by Congress exclusively for combat wounded veterans.