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Published: Sunday, 5/18/2008

Local memorial symbolizes blood shed by recipients of Purple Heart

BY JANE SCHMUCKER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Purple Heart recipients William Sauerwein of Maumee, left, and Leo Uliczny, 91, of Toledo shake hands at a memorial honoring veterans who were awarded the medal. The granite monument, in background, was unveiled at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo. Purple Heart recipients William Sauerwein of Maumee, left, and Leo Uliczny, 91, of Toledo shake hands at a memorial honoring veterans who were awarded the medal. The granite monument, in background, was unveiled at the Civic Center Mall in Toledo.
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One of the biggest goals for the Military Order of the Purple Heart Memorial unveiled on Toledo's Civic Center Mall yesterday is the simplest.

"I hope it will attract veterans who are wearing the Purple Heart to stop by for a photo op with their families," said Don Mooney, 79, a Korean War veteran from southern Monroe County's Erie Township.

The dream for the $6,500, India Red granite stone that turns blood-red in the rain, is that photos shot there - as well as strolls past it and wreaths laid in front of it - will spark thousands of conversations about the blood lost by military members.

Behind every purple and gold heart with George Washington's profile is a story.

Take Mr. Mooney.

Military order of the Purple Heart Commander Daniel Cannode of Waterville Township addresses attendees. Military order of the Purple Heart Commander Daniel Cannode of Waterville Township addresses attendees.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

He was 21 years old when he was shot in the abdomen by a Chinese sniper in the Chosin Reservoir, where conditions were so harsh that half of his company died.

The temperature that December day in 1950 was 65 below zero, and he jokes that it was so cold that his blood clotted quickly, enabling him to survive. It was actually, of course, the dedication of his fellow Marines, which gave him confidence.

It took a day and a half for Mr. Mooney to reach an aid station, carried in a litter for five miles by two Marines under sniper fire the whole way.

The aid station was just a big tent and it was so understaffed that the most seriously wounded were treated first - and Mr. Mooney wasn't one of those.

That soon changed, however.

The aid station was under enemy fire, and there Mr. Mooney got shot a second time - this time in the head - by a sniper he could see in a tree.

"Then I was one of the more seriously wounded," he said.

He lost his right eye and most of his teeth and spent 13 months recovering in the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Md.

His story has been recorded in recent years for the National Archives. But many such stories haven't even been shared within families.

Larry J. Barnett of Temperance, Mich., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, plays 'Taps' during the unveiling ceremony. Larry J. Barnett of Temperance, Mich., who served in the U.S. Marine Corps, plays 'Taps' during the unveiling ceremony.
JETTA FRASER Enlarge

Many veterans don't want to think about their Purple Hearts, he said, because they're intertwined with the deaths of fellow servicemen and memories of tragedy.

"But still, it's history," said Mr. Mooney, who hopes that the Purple Heart memorial will lead more men and women to tell their descendants about their wartime service.

Local leaders of the Military Order of the Purple Heart also are counting on the memorial and surrounding publicity to help revive their Fort Industry Chapter 1981.

"I would hope that more of the Purple Hearters would come forward and join the organization," said Horace Nearhood, an 83-year-old Army veteran from West Toledo who was wounded in the Philippines during World War II.

When he was the Order of the Purple Heart's Ohio commander in 2000 and 2001, the state had about 3,400 members.

Most of those in the organization, however, were World War II veterans and during the next five years, so many died that by 2006-2007 when Daniel Cannode of Waterville Township took the state commander's post, membership was down by almost a third to about 2,600.

The local Fort Industry Chapter has 102 members, but only about a dozen are active, said Mr. Cannode, a Coast Guard veteran who received his Purple Heart for an injury in Vietnam in 1969. Many meetings draw seven or eight members; five is a quorum.

"There's so many good things we could do in the community. But we just don't have the people to do it," Mr. Cannode said.

The organization typically spends about $10,000 a year, mainly to aid veterans who are homeless, in nursing homes, or otherwise in need. This spring local leaders helped the state organization lobby the Ohio General Assembly for free license plates for Purple Heart recipients.

The local group hopes to start a scholarship to assist nursing students who are planning military service.

"They're giving up so much by going into the military because they don't make as much money," Mr. Cannode said.

But he wants a more vigorous local chapter before making a new commitment. The Order doesn't even have an estimate of how many area veterans are Purple Heart recipients.

Yesterday about 25 recipients emerged from a crowd of about 140 people to gather around the memorial for photos after a rifle volley and the playing of "Taps."

More are expected for next weekend's Memorial Day ceremonies when for the first time the Order will lay a wreath on its own monument. And the Order plans a small commemoration for Purple Heart Day on Aug. 7.

"It means a lot," Mr. Mooney said. "It means we finally accomplished something as a group with the odds against us."

The memorial, which is similar to hundreds of others erected in recent years across the country, has been in the planning for about two years.

The Order sold raffle tickets to raise money and received donations from the Lucas County commissioners and Lucas County Veterans Service Commission as well as other veterans organizations and private businesses.

But its biggest challenge, Mr. Mooney said, was negotiating with the Arts Commission of Greater Toledo, which objected to the design and placement of the memorial on the mall.

A compromise was reached by putting the memorial in a flower bed behind the Toledo Police Department instead of in the midst of the mall. The stone faces the Korean War Memorial. The Vietnam peace arch is to its left, and the larger World War II memorial is to its right.

And yesterday, it all came together.

"This memorial: Beautiful in my judgment," Toledo Mayor Carty Finkbeiner said, acknowledging the controversy with the arts commission in his speech.

"Beautiful!" echoed Leo Uliczny, who at 91 was thought to the oldest Purple Heart recipient in attendance. The South Toledoan was wounded in a foxhole in Italy during World War II. The man next to him was killed in the explosion. Mr. Uliczny feels so tied to that time that he plans to be buried in his World War II uniform.

And John Link, 84, of South Toledo, who was wounded twice in Europe during World War II said he hoped the monument would "just let the young people know we were there."

"It's kind of nice to be remembered," he said.

Contact Jane Schmucker at:

jschmucker@theblade.com

or 419-724-6050.



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