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5:46 AM Sat, Sept. 22nd

Warrior Medal Ceremony honors veterans

Courtesy/Bob Stump VA Medical Center 
American Indian members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart distribute the Warrior Medal of Valor to patients at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott on Nov. 9 in an honor ceremony.

Courtesy/Bob Stump VA Medical Center American Indian members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart distribute the Warrior Medal of Valor to patients at the Bob Stump VA Medical Center in Prescott on Nov. 9 in an honor ceremony.

A ceremony honoring warriors took place Nov. 9 at the nursing home of the Bob Stump VA Medical center in Prescott. The music of a flutist, playing rousing music, set the tone for the ceremony, as American Indian members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart gave out 78 medals to the patients.

"We've given out the Warrior Medal of Valor before, recently, as a Father's Day event at the VA hospital," said Alfonso Santillan, Commander of the Prescott chapter of the order. "I was asking if they could bring the patients from the nursing home out in their wheelchairs, but that wasn't possible, then. I decided, then, that if they couldn't come to us, we'd go to them, so we planned this event. We're going to the nursing home, the hospice, the intensive care unit and the main hospital."

Marshall Tall Eagle Serna, a American Indian Vietnam veteran, designed the Warrior's Medal of Valor in 2002 as the first medal from the American Indian Nations honoring all of America's military personnel.

"He found after serving 24 years in the Army that most medals are usually given to their recipients without any fanfare or ceremony," said Santillan. "The ceremony touches a lot of hearts. The medal was designed for American Indians to give to military personnel. Some of them have never received a medal or award for their service, some maybe haven't been acknowledged in years. This is our chance to honor them, and remind them they are heroes."

Santillan, a Vietnam-era Marine, received two purple hearts for wounds he sustained in battle. He and other purple heart winners bestowed the medals on the VA patients in what he described as a "deeply moving and powerful" ceremony.

"We were as thrilled to award the medals as the people in the hospital were to receive them," said Hugh Branigan, one of the five presenters at the ceremony. "There were many tears as a result, and many good thanks. Most of them were in wheelchairs, or confined to their hospital beds. We had one woman, who, in tears, told us she'd do it all over again, meaning her military service."

Santillan said that the ceremony usually involves a drummer playing songs of honor and valor, but that due to sound level concerns at the nursing home, they opted to use the services of a flutist instead.

"Michael Goodluck performed with us, as the flutist," said Santillan. "The songs included the flag song, the veterans song, and the victory song, all songs that honor veterans in war, and in the hard-earned peacetimes."

Cadets with the Prescott High School Aerospace Science and Leadership Academy performed the presentation of colors at the beginning of the event.

"I spoke with Marshall Tall Eagle before the event. He told me we'd need a lot of boxes of tissues, when conducting a ceremony like this at a nursing home, and he was right," said Santillan. "There are many World War II veterans there, veterans of many eras, and they all deserve to be honored and acknowledged for their service."

For more information on the Military Order of the Purple Heart see the website at www.purpleheart.org.

Contact the reporter at dmeurer@prescottaz.com