FORT HOOD — Retired Sgt. James R. Wilson was prepared to wait a lifetime.
He was wounded June 6, 2004, at Camp Taji, Iraq, where he was a specialist assigned to Bravo Company, 27th Main Support Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. This was grounds for a Purple Heart Medal — an award given to soldiers wounded or killed in action — but because of missing military records and the disbanding of his unit, it hadn’t yet happened for Wilson.
“I went to a ceremony for a World War II veteran who had his legs blown off when he stepped on a land mine on D-Day, and he was just receiving his Purple Heart,” Wilson said. “I thought it’d be a lifelong mission.”
On Friday — a decade after an enemy car bomb explosion sent Wilson hurtling through the air before slamming him to the ground — that mission came to an end. Wilson received a Purple Heart during a ceremony at III Corps Headquarters.
“Everybody always said, ‘You didn’t get
your Purple Heart? Why?’” Wilson said. “It’s like a huge weight has been lifted.”
Lt. Col. Andrew Deaton, III Corps deputy director of protection, pinned the medal to Wilson’s chest. The two met in 2010 during a fundraiser for Deaton’s nonprofit organization, Honor the Sacrifice, at Fort Leavenworth, Kan.
After learning Wilson’s story, Deaton made it his personal mission to see the former soldier receive his Purple Heart. He finally succeeded in October.
“He didn’t want it for himself,” Deaton said during the ceremony. “He wanted to ensure that this young lady here” — Deaton gestured to Lilly, Wilson’s 6-year-old daughter — “had a good future.”
College, once uncertain, is now assured for Lilly, Wilson said.
“If it wasn’t for her, I might not even have tried,” said Wilson, who has sole custody of his daughter.
Wilson was medically retired from the Army in 2006, after a fuel fire left him badly burned. Now, he stays active by assisting fellow veterans through hunting and fishing trips, support groups and other activities, as well as aiding them in the process of receiving their benefits from the Department of Veterans Affairs.
“One thing that they don’t train you for is the day you leave,” Wilson said. “The worst day of my life was the day the doctor said, ‘We’re going to retire you.’ But I still have a voice, and I can use my voice to help other veterans.
“I might not be in uniform anymore, but I’m still serving.”