Purple Heart recipient
Staff Sgt. Kirk Holcome, wearing his double Purple Hearts, greeted well-wishers after the awards ceremony

Fort Knox's 194th Armored Brigade honored one of its own in a Dec. 3 ceremony during which the Soldier was awarded not one - but two -- Purple Hearts.

Staff Sgt. Kirk Holcombe was wounded while performing his duties in August 2007 with the scout platoon of the 2nd Battalion, 69th Armor near the Karradah neighborhood of Baghdad. An "explosively formed penetrator" detonated into the third vehicle just in front of Holcombe's Humvee. After regaining consciousness, he led the evacuation of Soldiers from that vehicle while sustaining small arms and rocket-propelled grenade fire. Holcombe suffered a concussion, lacerations, and a torn tendon in his foot.

Eight months later, in nearly the same neighborhood, an improvised explosive device detonated against the door of Holcombe's vehicle. This time, others evacuated him from the vehicle and he required treatment for a back injury, a second concussion, and a blown ear drum.

Fort Knox Commander Maj. Gen. James Milano said it was a privilege and an honor to award the Purple Heart, particularly when the recipient was able to stand and receive it because so many are awarded posthumously.

"Holcombe is reflective of the thousands of Soldiers in our Army today," Milano said. "He's an inspiration to all of us. You do us proud."

The Commander of the 194th Armored Brigade, Col. David Thompson, said that when he entered the Army in 1986, the number of Purple Heart recipients could be counted on two hands.

"They were the old grizzled Vietnam vets," Thompson told the audience after pinning the two medals on Holcombe's collar. "We didn't know what we didn't know then. Now there are tens of thousands of us wearing combat patches. Today, we are a blooded force."

Holcombe is no stranger to awards. He has completed five deployments to the combat zone and received a Bronze Star with V device for valor, one Army Commendation Medal with V device, the Army Commendation Medals with five oak leaf clusters, the Army Achievement Medal with four oak leaf clusters, three Good Conduct medals, the Iraqi Campaign Medal with four campaign stars, as well as a Global War on Terrorism Expeditionary Medal and the Global War on Terrorism Service Medal.

In response to the words of praise his chain of command had for him, Holcome thanked everyone but choked up, saying "It hurts here," as he pounded his chest. "I've seen a lot of friends die. I thank them for sacrificing their lives for me."

"He's ready to go back to the field," Thompson added. "He excels in everything; he's one of those dependable, go-to Soldiers."

Unlike other combat decorations, the Purple Heart is the only military award for which the recipient is not recommended, but rather is entitled. As Soldiers are aware, they don't "earn" or "win" medals, but rather are the "recipients." The criteria for Purple Hearts, however, is more specific and easily documented -- being wounded in combat.

The original Purple Heart was established by Gen. George Washington and was known as the Badge of Military Merit. The actual order specified that "he who wears the military order of the purple heart has given of his blood in the defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen."

The medal was awarded to only three Soldiers during the American Revolution and fell out of use until Gen. Douglas MacArthur re-designed the medal on the bicentennial of George Washington's birth in 1932.

Page last updated Thu December 10th, 2009 at 00:00