When you see a reference to a Purple Heart such as the car tags or the highway signs that designate a stretch of road as a Purple Heart Trail or a Purple Heart Memorial Highway, do you stop to think what a Purple Heart really is or why the significance to memorialize? Why is this group that is made up of every military branch so special to have highways and universities designated in their name? Who are they and why should we care so much for them? By definition as Purple Heart is awarded to a military service member that has shed blood or suffered injury at the hand of the enemy on the battlefield. Now that is a very general statement as more and more of the injuries are now known to not always be visible, and the complete definition and requirements to be awarded this medal are incredibly detailed and long. Since 2001, roughly 57,342 Purple Heart medals have been awarded. Medals can be awarded multiple times, one for each injury sustained in different events and posthumously to the nearest relative of the recipient.
Slowly, we are seeing more and more organizations defining specific services for Purple Hearts, the reason being is that society as a whole is becoming more educated of the need to differentiate Purple Hearts and combat wounded veterans. The trauma experienced of being injured "at the hand of the enemy" creates an entirely unique response and reaction. Not to discredit injuries sustained in a combat zone and the devastating physical and psychological impact incurred, but knowing the enemy, whom you were supposed to defeat, took you out of the game directly or suspended you for a time, takes a toll that most of us can't recognize or fully understand.
For these men and women, they chose a path, a career and a goal. They had a plan and a purpose, like many of us do, but their plan and purpose was to be a part of something bigger than themselves and be a part of something that created significant change in the world. Incredibly most of them gave serious consideration to giving their life for our country but never anticipated coming home without arms, legs, vision, hearing, or a peaceful nights sleep.
They never anticipated having to rediscover or redefine their purpose.
A Purple Hearts' road to recovery is far more complicated as it can be filled with heavy amounts of anger, frustration, regret, denial, hopelessness, and drive. Fate seemed to be against them or they were "sucker punched" by an IED, either way it leaves them feeling as though the uphill battle is a mountain. It's simply tough, and not understood by many, and it's very isolating. Due to the lack of education about what this award means, many feel they have to prove the significance of their injury and most often decide it's not worth their time or breath, so they retreat from the crowd of Americans that they once defended.
For a Purple Heart, finding their path, their highway, their trail, their university...
These men and women have families that they desperately want to protect and provide for, and sometimes before they can find their new path, they need to heal, they need find themselves, they need to know and believe that the enemy can't take their soul and sometimes the only ones that can help them on this journey and self assessment are those that have walked in their shoes. Those that fully understand, don't need explanation or judge the rate of an individuals healing process. Peer to peer support has proven to be vital and in a world of "no man left behind" that support is dependable.
Don't misunderstand, pity is the most insulting emotion to have for a Purple Heart.
Veterans that have been awarded the Purple Heart, accepted the award, out of honor, pride and respect for their country. How could they refuse? It's an honor to receive but a conflicting one at that. This medal honors them for their service and sacrifice, for fighting and paying a life long price for the ones that survive. Many say, "it was awarded but not earned". The Purple Hearts were the ones that were saved in the particular battle that earned them the medal and not the ones that were being the hero or doing the saving of his battle brothers. At the time this medal was earned, they were the ones receiving the blows, they were the ones in the battle on the losing end. They personally were defeated at that time. Although the medal is earned for an event in their past, it is more of a medal to carry and become a badge of courage. Courage to move forward after the most devastating blow of their lives to this point. For them, the battle never ends, everyday is the same choice to serve and fight, to accept what they cannot change, but to have the courage to change what they can. The passionate warrior within wants more, they are restless until they achieve more, their time was not yet done and they must find their path. What they have seen and experienced sets them a part. They have faced either death or utter lack of control of everything around them. That experience once recognized, gives them a precious insight. An insight of what matters most, how to let go, how to find peace in that which you cannot control and most important how to move forward, daily. But this learned mindset takes time and growth, that which can be found by being around groups that simply listen, understand and encourage. Peer to peer support.
Once this knowledge is discovered, get ready to be amazed! These men and women set out with clear goals, goals that will create change, change for themselves, their families, their friends or an audience. Their pinned up passion is unleashed to help others! They have all seen the bottom and have no fear, they have all had to fully be humbled and helped. They have all had to experience total vulnerability. They all have to march on daily and go forth to do great things!
Their Purple Hearts melt away to expose their Golden Hearts!
WBP Team writers
Blogs are written by staff members of the Warrior Bonfire Program along with guest writers.