Purple Heart recipient prefers to honor others

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 9, 2015

James Hearn has seen a lot in his lifetime and through his military service in Vietnam, has received scars — both physical and emotional. He also earned two Purple Hearts for his service.

“It’s an honor,” James said holding one of his two medals. “You have to shed blood to receive this.”

Hearn served as a member of the U.S. Army’s 3rd Battalion of the 8th Infantry Regiment Ivy Dragoons 4th Infantry Division in Company D.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

He spent seven and a half months in Vietnam and was part of the division from 1968 to 1970. He received his purple hearts in April 1969.

Out of the whole company, he said, four Silver Stars were awarded and just about each member of his company received Purple Hearts in the battle for Hill 947.

“That was a real bad battle for us,” James said.

Hearn is also a recipient of the Silver Star, the third highest medal a serviceman can get, and a Combat Infantry Badge, which is the highest ribbon a serviceman can get.

“The Silver Star is for gallantry in action, is what they say,” James said. “I saved a lot of boys’ lives by dragging them into a hole because they had done been shot.”

080915-purple-heart-story-js8WEBIn Vietnam, James’ nose was broken and he got a puncture wound in his leg from a sharp stick that had been cooked in human waste. He had a heart attack in 2004, which may have been attributed to the pieces of bamboo still stuck in his leg.

He got out of the Army is 1970 as an E4 and because his orders were lost, he did not receive his Silver Star until 1971.

Today, James continues to serve, but in a different capacity.

In 2008 James and his wife, Edna, founded the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a non-profit organization.

Nationally, the organization provides for the community, especially its veterans, through scholarship assistance programs as well as ROTC and JROTC and promotes U.S. history in schools.

The nonprofit’s local membership is currently down, but they are looking for more people to become part of the group. Any blood relative of a Purple Heart recipient can join.

“What I like about [the organization] is it’s for veterans who have something in common,” Edna said.

It is also an organization that does more than honor and serve those who have earned Purple Hearts.

“A tornado went through Yazoo City two or three years ago and we carried seven truck loads of food up there to them,” James said. “We took two veteran’s families down to Walmart, bought them uniforms so the kids could go to school.”

The local organization is now working to have the annual statewide Military Order of the Purple Heart convention in Vicksburg next year. James said Vicksburg has always been a place that has held veterans in high regard.

James lost all his medals in a house fire a few years ago but he was able to work with U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran to get them reissued.

Edna said his Vietnam medal has four stars meaning he went through four offensives. It’s rare to go through that many.

Recently, the Hearns attended a reunion of James’ unit in San Antonio, Texas.

“I saw some guys there I hadn’t seen since 1969,” James said. “It was nice to see them guys again.”

National Purple Heart Day was Friday. The day is aimed at commemorating the 1782 creation of the honor awarded to valiant soldiers who were injured or killed in combat.

James continues to honor those he served with instead of talking about his own accomplishments. He names other men with local ties, each of which earned Purple Hearts like Charlie Tolliver, Douglas Watts, Alvin Jones and Daniel Murray.

“There’s just so many of them out there that won’t come forward and let you know what they got,” James said.