Purple Heart – The Story Never Told

Purple Heart Day on August 7 commemorates the day in 1782 when General George Washington created the Purple Heart Medal – a military decoration that is awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the United States Armed Forces.
Written by Jay Hicks on Aug 01, 2018
Purple Heart – The Story Never Told

Some stories are forgotten.  Others only grow richer with time.  All should be recorded for posterity.  Therefore, let me relay what little I know of my grandad.  My mother’s father, a great man I never knew, was from the red lands of Alabama.  YC Parris was a tough man, growing up in difficult times.  Somehow in the midst of a hard life, he had acquired a gentle disposition, caring for many.  Mom says he was known for listening and for his generous nature, for which many would come to him during their time of need.


As a boy, when asking about my grandfather and the war, my uncle YC, Jr. said he understood that his father and a few of his friends joined the military shortly after the United States entered World War II.  YC was one of the fortunate soldiers who came home 4 years later to his wife and young daughter.  My mother tells a story of her father’s surprise encounter with his brother-in-law Eslin Roper on the battlefield in France.  This story is so revered by the Parris’, that to this day, many family members still relay the event at funerals and on holidays.


Like others that had a rough time overseas, my grandfather never talked about the war.  Communications home to the family during the war were poor.  Few other stories exist, and those that do are steeped in legend.  From my earliest years, I remember a “Thanksgiving Account”, recited for posterity around the holidays by family members.  Supposedly, the events took place on Thanksgiving, November 1944, somewhere in eastern France.  In hopes of brightening a dreary and cold Thanksgiving Day, insulated food containers, AKA mermites, were filled with turkey and dressing.  YC Parris volunteered to drive his motorcycle forward, laden with some of these warming containers to the frozen soldiers of the 22nd Infantry Regiment.  While delivering turkey dinners, my grandfather was blown off the motorcycle by gunfire receiving multiple wounds to the leg.   He was sent to hospital and subsequently returned to his unit.  As a child, listening to stories of my grandfather, I would think of the cold soldiers in France and curiously ponder if they ever received their holiday meal. 


No less heroic, my grandfather’s service records tell a slightly different story than the “Thanksgiving Account”.  First, and perhaps most astonishingly, his Enlisted Record and Report of Separation indicates that he earned the Bronze Indian Arrowhead device with the 4th Infantry Division.  The arrowhead is given to Servicemembers who “participate in an amphibious assault, a combat parachute drop, a helicopter assault landing, or a combat glider attack”.  He was not airborne, so it is most likely he was with one of the assault waves at Utah Beach on D-Day with the 4th Infantry Division.  Evidently, my grandfather never spoke of the invasion as I have never heard a recount from family. 


His records further indicate that he was wounded in the leg during the next 30 days in Brittney France, receiving the Purple Heart by General Order from the 4th ID during July of 1944.  My grandmother was informed by letter, on the 28th of August 1944, from the United States Democratic Whip, Lister Hill.   After his injuries, my grandfather YC obviously returned to duty; as the Service record indicates he received the Bronze Star and came home to his wife and child in the summer of 1945.  Even though I have recited the revered “Thanksgiving Account” to my sons over the years on holidays, YC Parris’ military records do not reflect a November 1944 combat injury.  The story never told, the story of the combat assault on D-Day and the subsequent combat related injuries of my grandfather in Brittney, may reflect even greater acts of valor.   Regardless of the story, YC Parris’ Service to our country was nothing short of meritorious.


It seems throughout the centuries, soldiers have always served meritoriously, some performing tremendous acts of valor and heroism.  George Washington in the 1780s realized that revolutionary soldiers of the Army were performing extraordinary meritorious service to the war effort with no formal means of recognition.  General George Washington desired to remedy this situation by the creation of the Badge of Merit.   Extremely prestigious, the Commander of the Continental Army only presented the Badge of Merit to three soldiers during the Revolutionary War. 


Interestingly, the Badge of Merit uniquely precipitated two modern military awards.  The first is our present-day Medal of Honor for distinguished acts of valor.  The very first Army Medal of Honor was awarded to Private Jacob Parrott during the American Civil War, for his actions in the Great Locomotive Chase, Georgia in April of 1862. 


The second medal inspired by the Badge of Merit is the modern day Purple Heart.  To reflect the lineage back to our first president, the similar color and heart shaped medal displays the bust of George Washington.  Executive Order 9277, signed by President Roosevelt on December 3, 1942, prescribes the Purple Heart be awarded to those serving with the Army, Navy, Marine Corps or Coast Guard of the United States, who were wounded in action against an enemy of the United States.


War is always difficult for the Service member and require a collection of tough days for everyone concerned.  I can just imagine my grandmother’s shock when receiving the word of my grandfather’s injuries. So many families of wounded Servicemembers have received similar notification.


To date, over 1.7 million Soldiers, Marines, Sailors, Airmen and Coast Guardsmen have received a Purple Heart.  We owe a debt of gratitude to those that have come before us and have been injured while bravely fighting for our country.  Purple Heart day was set aside for just such remembrance.  As we approach Purple Heart Day on Tuesday, August 7th, 2018, let us reflect upon these brave men and women.



Photo:  By Author

Jay Hicks is an author, instructor and consultant, with over 30 years of business and government planning and leadership. He advises commercial and federal organizations on the planning, development, and leadership of Project Management Organizations, delivering viability and value. With a special kinship for military personnel, Jay provides guidance on successful civilian career transition. He is the owner of Gr8Transitions4U, where advocating the value of hiring military personnel is the key focus. After a distinguished Army career as a tanker, information technologist and logistician, Jay developed and ran multiple project management organizations and programs for Lockheed Martin, L3 Communications, BAE and Jacobs Technology at US Central Command and US Special Operations Command. He frequently speaks and advocates for service members at project management symposiums and military transition programs, sharing his passion for successful career transition.