By Rebecca Rose
Fort Hood Herald
HARKER HEIGHTS - When retired Sgt. 1st Class Matthew Netzel was pinned with the Purple Heart at the Harker Heights Purple Heart monument on Saturday morning, a small group of onlookers hovered on the outskirts of the crowd gathered to show their support.
As he spoke to the crowd, Netzel repeatedly thanked that group of onlookers, the Military Order of the Purple Heart, Chapter 1876.
Members of the chapter were in attendance, as they often are, showing their support in more ways than one.
"I hate to see these young soldiers getting wounded," said John Footman.
Like Netzel, Footman is a Purple Heart recipient. At the same ceremony, he was sworn in as the chapter's senior vice commander. For the last two years, he has also served as the state commander for Central Texas Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Dating back to 1958, the organization was created by Congress specifically for military service members wounded in combat who have been awarded the Purple Heart. Made up of a network of nationwide chapters, the group seeks to provide services to all veterans, in a variety of different ways.
"We support the soldiers that are coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan," Footman said.
The chapter helps get basic necessities including toiletries, and, in some cases, helps pay utility bills and buy food.
In May of this year, the chapter presented a donation of $943 to the William R. Courtney Texas State Veterans Home in Temple.
"We support our veterans in the hospital. Every year we give them money," Footman said.
Jack Palmer is the outgoing commander of Chapter 1876 and has been active in the chapter for several years. A two-time recipient of the Purple Heart, Palmer said watching the barrage of news reports from Afghanistan and Iraq triggered memories of his own.
"It started bringing mine back forward," he said.
"These guys. My God, it is horrible, when you see what has happened to them."
Palmer said that the group serves as a support system. Veterans return and sometimes need to reach out to someone who understands what they've gone through, he said.
At the ceremony on Saturday, Palmer read the details of Netzel's story to the crowd gathered for the ceremony.
On Nov. 6, 2006, Netzel led a patrol to the site of a damaged supply truck. His 11-man patrol was ambushed by as many as 60 Taliban fighters. Netzel was injured when a rocket-propelled grenade threw him off a 10-foot embankment onto a rock bed, crushing his lumbar vertebrae and resulting in a mild traumatic brain injury.
The injuries sustained in 2006 would later cause him to be medically retired in 2010. In Netzel's case, the group helped arrange and coordinate the ceremony to award the retired soldier the Purple Heart.
Frequent deployments and transfers to different parts of the country often made it difficult to get together with his family, he said. He credited the chapter with helping bring them together.
"It was amazing," Netzel said. "How they went out of their way, so that my family was able to attend."
Nancy Romero is the only female member of the chapter. She was wounded on March 12, 2004, in Iraq. She now attends Central Texas College and substitute teaches part-time.
The chapter tries to raise funds and educate recipients about what programs and services are available to them, said Romero.
She was also there, watching as Netzel received the same medal with which she had once been pinned.
"I get satisfaction from being the younger generation of Purple Heart recipients," she said.
"I've been in their shoes, I know what it is like," Romero said. "It gives me satisfaction to know that I'm here for them, to help them out."
More information on the Military Order of the Purple Heart can be found online at http://militaryorderofthepurplehearttx.club.officelive.com.
Contact Rebecca Rose at email@example.com or (254) 501-7548. Follow her on Twitter at KDHheights.