By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
More than anything, the Purple Heart is known as the award that no one wants to receive.
It is given to anyone in the U.S. Armed Forces who was "wounded or died as a result of a wound in battle," according to information from the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
"The Purple Heart hurts and you're really not looking for that one," said Richard "Rocky" Hernandez, a local veteran and Purple Heart recipient.
Purple Heart Day
The award and those who received it are honored every Aug. 7 with Purple Heart Day.
"On this day it is our patriotic duty to remember and recognize those people willing to serve our country, no matter the price," according to information from the order.
The Fort Hood area has the third-largest organization in Texas for those who received the Purple Heart. The Military Order of the Purple Heart's Chapter 1876 has about 260 members, said John Footman, a local member and veteran. The largest chapter is in San Antonio and has about 600 members. The second largest is in Austin. The state has about 3,620 members - the most of any state.
Footman and Hernandez are officers in the state's order. Footman is the commander and Hernandez is the veterans' service officer.
Footman was in the Army from 1967 to 1987, retiring from Fort Benning, Ga. He was an infantryman who was wounded twice in two tours to the Vietnam War – the first in November 1968 and the second in April 1970. Hernandez was an infantryman and later a chemical corpsman from 1963 to 1989. He retired from Fort Hood, 20 years after receiving a Purple Heart during a tour to Vietnam.
The men joined the order five years apart after visiting the traveling Vietnam Traveling Memorial Wall at Fort Hood. Hernandez's younger brother's name, Manuel Hernandez Jr., is on the wall. Footman and Hernandez met another local veteran, Marty Martinez, who immediately signed them up as members of the order.
Group formed in 1932
Joining the organization, which was formed in 1932, gave Hernandez a way to once again create a bond with other former soldiers. It was a way to remember "the blood that we shed," he said Thursday.
It was "blood we shared together," Footman added.
Joining the order put him in touch with others who experienced the same things, during and after the war. It was among those other men that Footman knew he wasn't the only one.
Last year, Footman met a fellow member who was on the same hill at the same time as him in 1967.
They didn't know each other then, but by sharing stories and timelines, they realized they had a similar story of time spent on Hill 1338.
Hernandez said there aren't a lot of Iraqi veterans in Chapter 1876. He thought that maybe it was because current soldiers take awhile before they realize how they could benefit from a veterans' organization. He was the same way and it wasn't until after he retired that he wanted that brotherhood and camaraderie that come with being among one's own. Only 10 percent of soldiers at Fort Hood who are eligible to join the order are members, Hernandez said.
Those who are interested can contact Footman at (254) 681-8807. Lifetime dues cost $50 and spouses are eligible to join the auxiliary. For more information on the order, go to www.purpleheart.org.
Aug. 7 is a day of remembrance, Footman and Hernandez said. It is important to remember all soldiers, but Aug. 7 is especially for honoring those who sacrificed and were wounded and those who didn't make it back, Hernandez said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547.