Originally Published: April 8, 2015 6:03 a.m.
PRESCOTT - World War II veteran and Purple Heart recipient James Clark said his era of soldiers returned home with something of a "swagger" as the public hailed them as heroes.
His son, James, who earned three Purple Hearts from his tours in Vietnam, returned home to a bitter, anti-veteran public, some deriding he and his fellow soldiers as "baby killers."
On Monday, April 6, Clark, 90, was one of five Purple Heart recipients honored at the Yavapai County Board of Supervisors; he wishes his son could have been so honored.
"He never got over it," Clark said of his son, who died last year.
Clark was one of five Purple Heart recipients - Frank Sleicher, WWII; Barret Walters, Iraq; Richard Acosta, Vietnam; and Ray Curran, Vietnam - who attended the supervisors' meeting where a proclamation was read to honor them and their fellow brethren, from those who sacrificed all to those who answered their nation's call in wars past and present. Five others responded to the supervisors' Purple Heart outreach but did not attend the service: Terry Vermilyea, Wesley Winfree, Mark Field, Alvis Burns and James Robert Byrne.
Among these veterans, some earned multiple Purple Heart medals and their service included combat between World War II and Iraq.
The supervisors voted unanimously to declare Yavapai County a Purple Heart County; the Legislature is designating Arizona a Purple Heart state.
"I think it was nice," said the Navy veteran whose ship, the USS Nashville, was boarded for three days by the late Gen. Douglas McArthur before it was hit by a kamikaze pilot on Dec. 13, 1944. That attack killed 133 of Clark's shipmates, and he was wounded by shrapnel spray.
Before Clark's discharge in January 1946, Clark was involved in 18 battle operations, earning eight battle stars, six from the Asiatic Pacific campaign and two as part of the Philippines liberation.
State Rep. Noel Campbell, R-Prescott, a Navy Vietnam veteran, attended the meeting. He stated he supports the effort to honor these individuals 100 percent.
"You really can't do enough for these guys," Campbell said.
Despite suffering a gunshot wound to the abdomen during a battle in Mosul, Iraq, a decade ago, one that required a yearlong recovery period, Walters said he is proud of his service. He has no regrets about enlisting in the Army just four days before the terrorist attacks of 9/11.
"It's opened a lot of doors," said Walters, a Mayer High School graduate with three children who is currently studying gunsmithing at Yavapai College.
Like Clark, Walters said he appreciates the county honoring not just he and the men who attended the reading of the proclamation, but their efforts to laud all veterans for their contributions and accomplishments on behalf of all Americans.
In the proclamation tribute, County Supervisor Craig Brown, also a Vietnam veteran, declared that America's veterans have paid the high price of freedom by leaving their homes and families to selflessly place themselves in harm's way to protect their nation, state and fellow citizens, and that through their contributions and sacrifices, this nation's citizens are able to live in freedom.
The declaration concluded with audience applause and a standing ovation.
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