Short of Purple Hearts, Navy tells vet to buy own
by Anne Marie Kilday
Left, Korean War veteran Nyles Reed purchased his own Purple Heart for $42 after he was told the medal was “out of stock.''
PEARLAND — Korean War veteran Nyles Reed, 75, opened an envelope last week to learn a Purple Heart had been approved for injuries he sustained as a Marine on June 22, 1952.
But there was no medal. Just a certificate and a form stating that the medal was "out of stock."
"I can imagine, of course, with what's going on in Iraq and Afghanistan, there's a big shortage," Reed said. "At least, I would imagine so."
The form letter from the Navy Personnel Command told Reed he could wait 90 days and resubmit an application, or buy his own medal.
After waiting 55 years, however, Reed decided to pay $42 for his own Purple Heart and accompanying ribbon — plus state sales taxes — at a military surplus store…
On the day he was injured, getting a medal was the last thing on his mind. Stationed close to the front lines at Panmunjom, where peace talks were under way, Reed "was a forward observer — the one that's up on the front line directing the artillery. I had to get to the observation point."
Reed jumped in a Jeep and had started out when a 76-millimeter shell "comes in and hits right below the Jeep in the mud. And when it went off, it blew the Jeep over and threw me into the windshield, where I busted my cheek — you can see the scar — and I was bleeding like a stuck pig."
"And I could see this battalion aid station, with Navy corpsmen. So this doc, this surgeon, sewed me up and he says, 'Do you want a Purple Heart?' That's when I said, 'I haven't got time! They're waiting for me up at the front lines,'" Reed recalled. He rushed back to duty.
About three years ago, Reed said, he started thinking that it would be nice to have the Purple Heart to pass on to his two sons or daughter, or to show to his eight grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.
"I thought it was going to be an easy thing. Well, I found out that's not true," Reed said. The first response Reed got was that there was nothing in his record about the incident, and that he had to provide witness statements and other verification.
Reed located two Marine Corps buddies, who provided the statements.
"Then I started sending all this information to congressmen, senators, the president, the commandant of the Marine Corps, anybody," Reed said. "Well, I kept getting turned down."
"The real support I got was from Sen. (John) Cornyn."
John Drogan, a spokesman for the Texas Republican, said Thursday that the senator's office has now arranged for Reed to get an actual medal.
"I have word from Navy folks they have just received additional Purple Heart medals, and we are going to make sure Mr. Reed gets his," Drogan said, adding that he could not explain why the Navy Department had no medals when the senator's office contacted it last month.
Maj. J. DeLaRosa, a media affairs officer for the Marines at the Pentagon, couldn't believe Reed received only the certificate.
"That's unacceptable. 'Out of stock'? That's like saying, 'We're out of ammo.' That's like saying 'The Marines are going to close tomorrow.' It just seems a bit weird," DeLaRosa said. "There have been a lot of guys wounded, but not to the point that we're out of medals."
The Department of Defense estimates that 29,098 troops have been wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan through Thursday.
For his part, Reed is simply happy he finally received recognition for what happened to him that day. "That's why I am so grateful to Sen. Cornyn."
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