City now has Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 4, 2009

The roll call at the inaugural meeting of Vicksburg’s chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, which convened Saturday at Battlefield Inn, elicited replies of either “here” or “not here”— until Daniel Murray’s name was called.

“Afghanistan,” responded his mother, Mary, a member of the organization’s Ladies’ Auxiliary who attended the meeting in place of her son, an Army sergeant and Vicksburg native who was awarded a Purple Heart last year after receiving shrapnel wounds in Iraq. Murray, a member of the 101st Airborne Division, is now a pathfinder southeast of Kabul in Afghanistan, radioing wind coordinates and other information from the ground to airplanes that drop supplies to troops carrying out operations against the Taliban.

Murray’s absence wasn’t minded by the charter members of the order’s Vicksburg chapter, who said their goal is to build a group of Purple Heart recipients from all conflicts and to help area veterans.

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The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the military who have been wounded or killed in combat.

“To belong to this organization, you have to have shed blood on the battlefield,” said Sonny Roncali, a Vietnam War veteran who lives in the Delta town of Shaw and serves as one of the organization’s state officials. “I’d say about 70 percent of us were wounded, not critically, but severely enough to understand what it means to need help from somebody else. That’s one reason why we’re dedicated to helping each other.”

Though chartered by Congress in 1958, the organization is entirely self-funded, said John Brown, a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient who was named chaplain of the Vicksburg chapter Saturday. According to the order’s Web site, it raises money for its service projects through the thrift stores it operates, donations from members and sales of the Purple Heart viola, the group’s official flower.

The group is open to all Purple Heart recipients. Wives, mothers and daughters are eligible to join the Ladies’ Auxiliary.

The Purple Heart recipients who gathered for Saturday’s meeting were drawn from four conflicts — World War II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

Jack Hearn, the oldest of the group at 87, was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Germany as the Allies closed in on Berlin.

The youngest, David Allen Pugh, was 25 when he received a Purple Heart this year for wounds sustained in a March 1 incident in Iraq.

Vicksburg was without its own chapter before Saturday because too few of the area’s Purple Heart recipients had joined the order. The organization requires its chapters have at least 12 members.

The new chapter’s quorum was assembled through the efforts of Warren County’s first member of the order, James Hearn, a Purple Heart recipient and Vietnam veteran who joined last year, and his wife, Edna. 

Edna Hearn said the couple tracked down other Purple Heart recipients through newspapers, as well as by identifying the owners of vehicles with special state-issued Purple Heart license plates. “We also were related to some,” she said, referring to Jack Hearn, James’ uncle.

The Vicksburg chapter, officially christened Chapter 680, is actively recruiting new members, she said.

Purple Heart recipients may purchase a lifetime membership for $50, which can be paid in two installments of $25.  Annual members pay dues of $20.


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