WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Feb. 27, 2008) -- The United States is a country which values symbols, and none are more revered than the U.S. flag and the Purple Heart, said Lt. Gen. Stanley A. McChrystal during a Purple Heart ceremony honoring Spc. James Nakamoto at Walter Reed Army Medical Center Feb. 27.

A native of Watsonville, Calif., Nakamoto was wounded in Iraq June 29, 2008. He was operating as an infantry team leader with A Troop, 1st Squadron, 71st Cavalry, 10th Mountain Division out of Fort Drum, N.Y.

Nakamoto, 22, was on a dismounted patrol northwest of Tal Afar, Iraq, when he and his gunner took heavy machine-gun fire from a hilltop in Jabal Juraybah. Nakamoto was hit twice in his left leg; his gunner was hit three times in his legs. Both were evacuated to Landstuhl, Germany, and then on to Walter Reed.

Nakamoto parents attended the Feb. 27 Purple Heart ceremony honoring him. Steven Nakamoto and Kathleen Seibert were also recognized by McChrystal for their dedication and sacrifice.

McChrystal, director of the Joint Staff, spoke poignantly about the Battle of Baltimore during the War of 1812, the writing of "The Star-Spangled Banner" by Francis Scott Key, and the U.S. flag which inspired it.

From a ship's deck, Key watched what looked like "a fairly certain defeat" of American forces at Fort McHenry in Baltimore by the British on the night of Sept. 13-14, 1814, McChrystal said.

When the smoke from "the rockets' red glare and bombs bursting in air" cleared on the morning of Sept. 14, 1814, Key was able to see an American flag still waving over Fort McHenry. "It wasn't just a flag," McChrystal said. "The flag just didn't stay there - it was defended by Americans who made a decision to fight for their country, never quit, and not leave a fallen comrade."

It takes an "entire nation, the strength of a nation, to put a Soldier in the field," McChrystal said, but those who give up and sacrifice the most are the parents and other love ones of the Soldiers who go off to war to defend this country. He explained they are symbols of dedication and sacrifice for the nation.

The Purple Heart started as the first symbol of military merit in America, McChrystal explained. The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington - then the commander-in-chief of the Continental Army - by order from his headquarters in Newburgh, N.Y. , on Aug. 7, 1782.

The actual order includes the phrase, "Let it be known 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."

Today, the Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the president to those who have been wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military. "It probably symbolizes the purest part of our service," McChrystal said.

"It doesn't say you were there, although you have to be there to get it," McChrystal said.
"It says that when it counted, you paid the price. You sacrificed. An extraordinary recognition that all of us make because you gave a part of yourself."

McChrystal said when he speaks with most Soldiers who earn the Purple Heart, their first thoughts are with those who were injured with them and their fellow troops back in the war zone, and Nakamoto was no different.

After McChrystal pinned the Purple Heart on his chest, Nakamoto thanked his fellow Soldiers, those in his unit, and the healthcare providers at Landstuhl and Walter Reed Army Medical Center for his recovery.

(Bernard S. Little serves as Command Information Officer for Walter Reed.)