Friday, March 10, 2006

Chapter 17: My Purple Heart & the Telegram

The morning after my surgery, the batallion First Sergeant came to see me and award me my Purple Heart. He told me they were also putting me in for a Bronze Star, but I told him I didn’t want it. I didn’t really think I did anything to deserve it and I would feel guilty taking something that so many others had earned. He disagreed but said he would do as I asked.

I asked him about all the other guys that got wounded and he filled me in. A couple of men were only wounded slightly and would be back out with our unit in no time. The rest required more care so would be sent somewhere else to recover and possibly go home. The sergeant pinned my purple heart to my pillow as all I was wearing were bandages and there was no place else to put it. Here’s a picture of my Purple Heart.

One of the other men in my squad came in to see that morning too. He was walking with the help of a cane. He had gotten a large piece of shrapnel in his thigh and would fully recover. He didn’t have that long left in his tour in Vietnam so they were sending him home in a couple of weeks after the wound healed.


Now I take you to the kitchen in my house in Smithtown, New York sometime that same day.

My step mother was sitting at the kitchen table drinking a cup of coffee, smoking a cigarette and reading the Sunday morning Long Island Press like she did ever Sunday. Something caught her attention outside, so she looked out the window and saw a car stopping in front of the house she didn’t recognize. A man got out, walked up to the door and rang the bell. Not really giving it much thought, she answered the door and the man told her he had a telegram for her. Her heart sank, because she was afraid it had bad news about me. At first she refused to even take it she told me, because she didn’t want to know what it said, but then signed for the telegram and went back into the kitchen and sat back down at the table. She put the telegram on the table and just stared at it. Many things ran through her mind as she just sat there staring at it.

Finally gathering the courage, she opened the telegram and read it.

(Click on it to enlarge)

My step mother couldn’t believe what she had just read, so she just sat there and cried trying to comprehend what the telegram said. Sometime later my father got home and saw her sitting at the table crying. She told him I had been wounded and just handed him the telegram. I remember them telling me that even though it said I wasn’t seriously wounded, it didn’t read like that so they didn’t know what to think. My step mother called my mother in Michigan to break the news to her and my younger sister.

They tried to get more information about my condition by calling their Congressman the next week, but he couldn’t help them. He told them they would just have to wait and hope I would call them soon. I did call eventually, but it was about a week before I was able to use a phone to call them.