Purple Heart Day to feature violas Friday
August 4, 2009
By Roger Teel
ABERDEEN PROVING GROUND, Md. (Army News Service, Aug. 4, 2009) -- Violas, rare purple flowers that blossom but once a year, will be available for a small donation Aug. 7.
Aug. 7 is Purple Heart Day, this year commemorating the 51st anniversary of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. Across America, members of the MOPH will be in high-traffic shopping areas, wearing purple bibs, dispensing purple violas.
Sgt. 1st Class John Stricklett, 39, senior operations noncommissioned officer with the 20th Support Command (Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear and High Yield Explosives), placed an order July 29 for violas for his newly formed chapter, a 20-man group of Purple Heart awardees from Cecil County, Md., that goes by the name Chapter 703.
The name is derived from the date the chapter received its charter which, in this instance, was July 3 of this year.
"We made it happen," he said of his organization's rush to become a chapter. Stricklett is reportedly the youngest elected MOPH chapter commander in America.
"It usually takes about a year to get a chapter together, but they did ours in, like, two months. The big push was because of the Salute to Veterans celebration on the 3rd of July," he said.
"You're only commander for a year, and I'm just getting started," he said.
An explosive ordnance disposal technician with three tours in Iraq, Stricklett is energetic and engaging as he talks about how he came to join the MOPH.
"My father passed away in 2007 while I was in Iraq. My brother was stuck with the funeral arrangements, making sure everything was in order for my father, a retired first sergeant," Stricklett explained.
"Because of the geography (his father was buried in Illinois), Fort Leonard Wood, Mo., was only going to send two Soldiers to my father's funeral. Two Soldiers!" he exclaimed, incredulously. "So I got on the phone with the Reserve Command in Chicago and they sent down seven Soldiers, which, in my opinion, was still not right, but seven was better than two.
"The ceremony they conducted, well, they were young kids and probably hadn't done many funerals. Their uniforms looked great, but the way that they conducted themselves was very amateurish.
"Veterans go to their graves thinking they're going to get full military honors," Stricklett continued. "And because there's not a major military installation (nearby), veterans are getting substandard benefits - benefits being pallbearers and a firing squad. My dad got a 12-gun salute ... and they weren't in synch. You could tell they hadn't practiced. It was appalling to me.
"So I decided when I got back (from Iraq) I was going to get involved in a veteran's organization and volunteer as much of my time as I could because we owe it to those people," he said.
"That's what got me involved in this organization as well as the VFW. I'm also trying to get in the Disabled American Veterans, not that I'm disabled but just to lend my support."
Overall, what the organizations do is the same, according to Stricklett.
"We work to instill patriotism and camaraderie with other veterans, and do the same things -- fund raising and developing a sense of pride in the community."
"This is all new to me. I'm still learning," he added
"It seems like MOPH is corollary to VFW and American Legion. It's a fraternal kind of thing, like the Marine Corps Association," he said, looking for ways to describe MOPH.
"Not just anybody who went overseas can be part of this. You're combat wounded, and the MOPH is also the only congressionally mandated veteran's organization."
Stricklett said there are only three categories of membership: be a Purple Heart recipient, be the spouse of a Purple Heart recipient (auxiliary), or be an associate member.
"I want to see this chapter grow," he said. "I'd like to see it become the best chapter in the state of Maryland.
"So I'm recruiting people, doing things, participating in parades, getting out to the hospitals and seeing these kids that are coming back.
"That's a big thing. That's a real big thing, actually, letting them know that people care, other than the military. It's telling them 'The public cares about you.' It's not about, 'Join my organization. Give me fifty dollars.'
"If there was a way around that fifty dollars (for lifetime membership) I'd like to find it," Stricklett said.
"Especially with these guys that are hurt real bad -- I want them to see that these guys that have been hurt are right there with you.
"Some of these guys (members of the MOPH) were hospitalized for a very long time, and if you're having a hard time dealing with something, talk to this guy," he said.
"And veterans who are in a financial hurt, we can get them assistance, whether from our money pool or if we have to put it out there to the Marine Corps Association, the VFW or American Legion or other state organizations. We can help," Stricklett said.
"I saw that happen in the VFW. That would make me happy to be able to do stuff like that. 'Your ball team needs $2,000 for new equipment' There you go! (as he symbolically signs an imaginary check).'
"Yeah, I'd like to see us grow like that," he said.
His organization's growth begins with a field of purple violas Aug. 7.
(Roger Teel writes for the 20th Support Command (CBRNE) at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Md.)