By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Maria Mancia exhaled. Her brief nightmare had ended.
She broke down at the sound of her husband's voice - a voice that, just seconds earlier, she was sure she'd never hear again.
Maria was jolted awake before sunrise on Jan. 18. It wasn't the usual time her husband, Spc. Marvin Mancia, called home from Iraq.
After a moment she realized it wasn't Marvin's voice on the other end. This man had a strong accent and he asked for Mrs. Mancia. Her heart dropped.
Maria only processed a few words: "husband ... injured ... surgery ... calling you on his behalf." Then came the only two words that made it better: "Hi, babe."
Marvin was headed out on a mission earlier that day when his vehicle struck an explosively formed projectile or EFP. EFPs emerged as troops found ways to thwart improvised-explosive devices or IEDs. EFPs are like IEDs on steroids - armor-piercing steroids.
Shrapnel penetrated Marvin's left hand and his buddy's left knee. Their sergeant and friend, Staff Sgt. Roberto Andrade Jr., didn't make it. His family wouldn't get a call, but a visit by two soldiers in dress uniforms.
Marvin was one of four 4th Infantry Division soldiers awarded Purple Heart medals during a ceremony Thursday at Fort Hood. Staff Sgt. Seth T. Gay and Pfc. Nathan J. Morris are fellow 1st Battalion, 66th Armor Regiment, 1st Brigade Combat Team soldiers. Staff Sgt. Christopher A. Reeves is in the division's Special Troops Battalion.
From the General
As of Thursday, the 4th Infantry has handed out 424 Purple Hearts to its soldiers, according to information from the division.
The Purple Heart is the oldest military decoration still given out today, according to information from the Army. It was created by Gen. George Washington when he commanded the Continental Army, and the original orders read: "Let it be known that he who wears the Military Order of the Purple Heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen."
He was ordered by the Continental Congress in 1778 to stop giving the award.
The Purple Heart was revived on the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth, and a new design featuring his profile was unveiled. It is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces who, "has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded," according to information from the Pentagon.
From March 13, 2003 - the beginning of the war in Iraq - to Dec. 31, 2008, 20,365 Purple Hearts were issued to those supporting Operation Iraqi Freedom.
From Dec. 5, 2001, to Dec. 31, 2008, 2,521 Purple Hearts were issued to those supporting Operation Enduring Freedom, according to information from the U.S. Army Human Resources Command.
Those figures outnumber Purple Hearts given out in any other modern conflict except during the Vietnam War from July 1958 to April 1975. More than 220,000 Purple Hearts were awarded to those who fought. More than 500 were issued during Operation Desert Storm and 58 were awarded following the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, according to information from the Military Awards Branch.
Making them feel
One of those to receive a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War was John Footman. He got his first in 1968 while serving in Vietnam with the 4th Infantry. His second came two years later while with the 5th Mechanized Infantry Division.
He retired in 1987.
Footman now serves as the senior vice commander for the local Military Order of the Purple Heart chapter. The organization is open to any Purple Heart recipient and not only benefits members, but spouses and children, who can get scholarships from the national organization, Footman said.
Footman and a handful of other chapter members are regulars at Fort Hood events - especially soldier homecomings and Purple Heart ceremonies. They want to make the soldiers feel at home, the Vietnam veteran said.
"I don't want them to feel left out," Footman said.
For more information on the Military Order of the Purple Heart, visit www.purpleheart.org. To join the local chapter, contact Justin Kautz, commander, at (254) 258-9418 or Footman at (254-681-8807.
Recipients of the medal often say Purple Hearts are not awards they sought out to earn.
Maria called it a "bittersweet" award. She was proud of Marvin for his service and bravery, but saddened because the bombing changed people's lives so drastically.
Maria had mixed feelings about her husband's return home six days after the bombing. Sure, she was happy to finally see him, but she was worried about how he and his buddies would react to the injuries and loss of a comrade. It was a roller coaster of emotions, she said.
Marvin's daily routine now includes occupational therapy for his wrist. He has no range of motion and can't make a fist with his left hand. He's getting better, though, he said. There's a little pain here and there, but the recovery is going well.
It's not that physical pain that occupies Marvin's mind, but the remembering Andrade, a lost friend.
Marvin's 8-month-old son, Marvin II, napped in a stroller during his dad's Purple Heart ceremony last week. He isn't old enough to understand yet, but Maria is saving everything - photos, articles, programs - so when that time does come, little Marvin will know how much his daddy and his daddy's friend sacrificed.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547.