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Wounded veterans share stories

Purple Heart Day honors those hurt or killed in service

Staff photo / Allie Vugrincic Marine veteran Ricco Oliver, who earned a Purple Heart serving in Iraq, discusses the friends he lost when his platoon was ambushed while Cmdr. Herman Breuer of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 606 and Vietnam veteran Paul Brady listen Friday at a Purple Heart Day celebration behind the Veterans Services building in Warren.

WARREN — Area veterans and local elected leaders gathered Friday to honor those who were wounded or killed in battle with an observance of Purple Heart Day.

“Today is about the sacrifice that our service members gave on the front line,” Cmdr. Herman Breuer of the local Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 606 said.

The day marked 238 years since George Washington, then-commander of the Continental Army, created the award, originally called the Badge of Military Merit. It was awarded to only three people during the Revolutionary War.

On Feb. 22, 1932 — the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth — the award was revived as the Purple Heart and was exclusively for the Army. In 1941, the medal was expanded to include all service branches.

Today, nearly two million people have been given “the award no one aspires to receive,” Breuer said.

Breuer read a list of famous Purple Heart recipients, including politicians, athletes and writers.

“Each of them represents a story,” Breuer said.

However, the stories that were shared Friday were those of local Purple Heart recipients, whom Breuer invited to speak to their fellow service members. He said other communities are begining to implement the practice that is designed to give hope and help by sharing stories with one another.

“When we come home from the war and we go back to working in the mill or the plant or the office, sometimes we tuck those stories away,” Breuer said.

He broke the ice with his own story of how he earned his Purple Heart in Iraq while serving as security for a general.

“We went everywhere he did,” Breuer said of the general. “Most of the time it was a good thing.”

In March 2004, the group was headed toward the Syrian boarder. The three trucks left early in the morning, before roadside bombs had been swept. Breuer, the gunner in the rear truck, was suddenly thrown into an explosion.

“In an instant all I could see was black smoke,” he said. “After the shock wore off, I could hear the muffled sound of the other guys screaming.” The group secured a refill depot and Breuer, with bloody ears, got out of the truck on his feet and smoked a cigarette.

“That’s my story. I don’t share that often,” he said.

Other veterans stood up and talked about their injuries, the friends they left behind and the things they remembered.

Military Order of the Purple Heart Junior Vice Commander Leo Connelly Jr. of Austintown spoke about a mission to take a Vietnam village, where he was told to kill anything that moved. The then 19-year-old Connelly saw two people hiding in hay and shot them dead; it turned out to be a woman and child.

“I live with that,” Connelly said, pointing to the “hidden scars of war” — the ones that no one can see, but veterans carry with them throughout their lives.

“What is the price of freedom? It’s damn expensive. You pay that for life,” Connelly said.

The day also included a roundtable discussion with U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Howland, who took questions on veterans issues.

Two Girard bridges were dedicated from the parking lot behind the Veterans Services building in Warren, making Trumbull County home to the most veterans bridges. The county has 10 dedicated bridges and one dedicated highway.

The Purple Heart Veterans Memorial Bridge is on U.S. Route 422 and the World War II Veterans Memorial Bridge is on Tibbetts Wick Road. Signs for the bridges were unveiled, and elected officials ceremoniously cut a ribbon strung between posts of the large tent where the observance was held.

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