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Friday, June 4, 2010

The Final Healing of An Old Wound

After 41 Years A Purple Heart is Finally Awarded   By Sid Riley
Forty-One years ago, in 1968, Sgt. Reuben Merritt, Jr. of Jackson County, was busy firing a machine gun at Viet Cong soldiers who were attempting to overrun their camp perimeter on a hillside during a memorable night in Viet Nam. The site was a place known as “Dragon Valley”, near Chu Lai. During the fierce battle, Sgt. Reuben Merritt was wounded in his right shoulder.  He was taken to a field hospital for treatment, and after ten days of healing, was returned to his unit.
After completing his tour he was discharged as a Sergeant in the 52nd Infantry Regiment, 198th Infantry Brigade. He returned home and joined the National Guard.  He later served a tour in Iraq during Desert Storm, as part of the 144th Transportation Company.  He is a local hero.
Because of the fact that the entire area in Viet Nam was a “hot” battle area, and the final rushed withdrawal of U. S. forces from Viet Nam, he was never awarded the Purple Heart which his combat wound certainly qualified him for.  Then forty-one years passed.
Through all of this time, Reuben knew that he should have been awarded this medal for his sacrifice, but the initial post anti Viet Nam War national attitude, combined with his involvement in work and family, prevented him from pursuing correction of this omission.  That situation remained until about two years ago until his wife of thirty-six years, Glinda, was working with his military records regarding some other military benefits.  She reviewed his medical records, and found the record of the wound and subsequent hospitalization.  She began to actively push to have the forgotten medal awarded.
It took about eighteen months for the authorities to verify the claim and clear the way for the medal to finally be awarded.  Then for some reason the government committed another thoughtless act which served to merely rub salt into the old, festering wound from an unfortunate war fought long ago….they merely sent the Purple Heart medal to the veteran via the mail.  There was no formal ceremony, no awarding, no recognition, no real display of gratitude for service.
Well, all of that was taken care of during the formal Memorial Day Ceremony on the Court House lawn in Marianna on Monday.  Lt. Col. Coennie Woods formally presented the Purple Heart to Sgt. Reuben Merritt, Jr. before the assembly of local citizens.  Hopefully the appreciation displayed by the crowd for the Viet Nam Veteran for his bravery and service will help this old war wound finally heal.

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