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Tue, Oct. 22

Purple Heart recipients on one more mission

Today is National Purple Heart Day. It honors the recipients of America's oldest military honor ‹ the men and women wounded in the service of their country during war.

The Major John R. Tapia PhD., Chapter No. 608 Military Order of the Purple Heart in Prescott currently has 52 members. The men received their wounds during World War II, the Korean Conflict and the Vietnam War.

Hugh Branigan, who received two Purple Hearts in Korea, said the chapter "has a very important cause."

Branigan said Arizona has a Purple Heart Memorial at Wesley Bolin Plaza in Phoenix. He said the national Purple Heart Foundation gave each state a monument.

Chapter Commander Alfonso Santillan, who received two Purple Hearts during the Vietnam War, said local Purple Heart recipients want to establish a monument at the VA Medical Center honoring Arizona servicemen killed in action in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"We want to do things now, during this war. Most of the guys currently in the chapter were wounded in Vietnam and (recognition of those who died) did not happen for them (when they returned to the United States). We want to honor (soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan) now so it does not happen to them," Santillan said.

Chapter officers will meet with VA officials in September to discuss a possible location for the monument.

The chapter bears the name of Major John Tapia, who received seven Purple Hearts, three during WWII and four during the Korean Conflict.

Tapia served in the U.S. Army on the European Front during WWII, including the Battle of the Bulge.

Twelve Purple Heart recipients established Chapter No. 608 in 1993. It had to close its doors six years ago because it lost its officers.

Three years ago, another 12 Purple Heart Recipients reactivated the local chapter.

Thirty years or more have passed since these men served in uniform. However, their minds quickly recalled their service number and their military nicknames.

The rapid recall, Branigan said, results from the "intensity of training and the intensity of youth."

PFC Hubert E. (Ed) Reeves served in the Army during the Korean Conflict. He received three Purple Hearts for injuries he suffered as an infantryman and while a prisoner of war.

Amm2. Harry G. Smeltzer served in the U.S. Navy. He suffered his wound during WWII while stationed in the Pacific.

BMCM Ronald L. Columbo was in the Navy. He received a Purple Heart during the Vietnam War.

Captain James C. Burg served in the Army. He received a Purple Heart in Vietnam.

Sgt. Michael S. Brody received his Purple Heart while serving in the Army during the Vietnam War.

Tech-4 Lewis C. Burns served in the Army during WWII. He received his Purple Heart in the European Campaign.

Sgt. Robert Overly joined the Army when he was 19 years old. He served with Generals George Patton and Omar Bradley. He received his Purple Heart in Germany.

Sgt. Al Battista served with the U.S. Marine Corps during the Vietnam War. He received his Purple Heart while serving as a forward observer.

All of these men received additional military decorations from the U.S. government, as well as other countries.

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