Purple Heart Day: Meet a Houston veteran who overcame his wartime injury

- August 7th is Purple Heart Day, and Houston-area Marine veteran James Shotwell wishes more people knew what that meant.

"When I meet other military people there's a great comradeship, great respect and everything like that," explains Shotwell, who served during the Vietnam war, "but most people don't know anything about the Purple Heart."

The Purple Heart is a combat medal awarded to those injured by an enemy while serving in the United States military. It is also awarded to the families of those who die of wounds received in combat.

George Washington is said to have given out the first purple hearts. In it's initial form, the Purple Heart was given only to members of the Army. It has since been expanded to encompass all branches of the U.S. military.

Shotwell is one of the estimated 1.8 million Purple Heart recipients in the United States.

"It wasn't by choice," joked Shotwell as he spoke with FOX26.

Shotwell says he was drafted while in college during the Vietnam war. He almost was not allowed to go overseas, saying, "the government didn't allow two brothers from the same family in a combat zone."

Wanting to see his little brother come home from the front lines, Shotwell made a deal with the military. "The Marine Corps told me if I signed my rights away I could go to Vietnam and my brother would come back to the United States," says Shotwell.

He agreed. His brother was sent him. Shotwell served as a marine machine gun operator for three years.

Then, while on patrol, shrapnel destroyed his right knee cap.

"According to my medical records, I was going to be a cripple for the rest of my life," recalled Shotwell. But he says he refused to accept that fate. "I was in so much pain during that therapy, that I didn't go back to therapy no more. I hid from the doctors...I did my therapy on my own."

Now walking just fine, Shotwell is an honorary Buffalo Soldier. He takes part in presentations to help new generations understand the role of African Americans in U.S. military history. Shotwell is also a proud grandfather.

"All Purple Heart recipients are not as fortunate or blessed as I am to even live to receive the Purple Heart," said Shotwell. 
 
President Franklin Roosevelt is credited with allowing the Purple Heart to be awarded to the families of those who lose their lives defending our freedom.

 

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