Purple Heart Day: Honoring local heroes
‘I’m truly honored to receive this and to be considered a part of the greatest generation to serve our nation.’
The crowd gave a standing ovation on Sunday as American Legion Post 16 Vice Commander Travis Harvey handed World War II veteran Bob Gasche a handcrafted eagle-head cane made by the Indian River Woodcarvers Club in honor of his service.
Gashe, who was wounded on Iwo Jima, is the 272nd Purple Heart recipient to receive such a cane. The honor came during the Purple Heart Day Ceremony in the Freedom Community Center at the Veterans Memorial Park in Gainesville.
“I’m truly honored to receive this and to be considered a part of the greatest generation to serve our nation in a time of need when we truly needed every person we could get to serve our flag and honor our country,” Gasche said.
Organized annually by the Military Order of the Purple Heart SSG John Reiners, the ceremony was held in observance of Florida’s Purple Heart Day. The Purple Heart medal is a military decoration awarded to those wounded or killed while serving in the U.S. military.
This year’s event featured multiple ceremonies in which other local veterans were awarded Silver Star Service Banners and Quilts of Valor.
Silver Star Service Banners are granted by The Silver Star Families of America to veterans who were wounded or contracted a serious illness or injury in a war zone.
The following veterans were named as Silver Star recipients: Tom Hennessey, Norman M. Sassner, John P. Senkarik, Benjamin Van Buren, Michael Nemesh, Stephen Dodd, Travis Harvey, Greg Kidney and Jonathan Pruden.
Those same veterans, in addition to Ramos, David Robertson and Dwight Fields, were given Quilts of Valor — finely crafted quilts featuring patriotic themes that are awarded to veterans by the Quilts of Valor Foundation.
The event started with a welcome by Ronna Jackson, the organization’s president and the mother of the late John Reiners.
“Your patriotism is an inspiration, and I’m honored to stand before you today to thank you for all that you have given for our freedom,” U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Florida, told the veterans at the ceremony. “I would also like to recognize those who have lost a loved one in the line of duty of this country, for they have paid the ultimate price for freedom and liberty. Our country is indebted to you and your loved ones.”
Jim Ramos, a former department commander of the Florida American Legion, also recognized the families of those who lost their lives. He spoke about the difficulties veterans face, be they physical injuries or coping with the psychological effects of war.
After asking the veterans to stand and be recognized, Ramos closed by sharing words he said he lives by every day: “For God and country we are always together every day. God bless America, and God bless our veterans because without them we wouldn’t be America.”
Honoree Pruden, a member of the Third Infantry Division of the U.S. Army who was injured in a roadside bombing following the 2003 invasion of Iraq, said he has received 20 surgeries, including the amputation of his right leg. He now works with the Wounded Warrior Project as a national warrior relations specialist.
“It’s a tremendous honor to receive something like this from the Silver Star Families of America, and its a much greater honor to receive it from Ronna Jackson, a Gold Star mother,” he said. “Those guys have made the ultimate sacrifice in their families.”