Battle of Okinawa vet receives Purple Heart after 78 years

By Sgt. Keaton HabeckOctober 2, 2023

Retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos speaks about his journey to receive his Purple Heart Medal after 78 years of waiting in Olympia, WA, September 30, 2023. Drahos earned his medal after being wounded in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and had to fix multiple clerical issues following World War 2.
Retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos speaks about his journey to receive his Purple Heart Medal after 78 years of waiting in Olympia, WA, September 30, 2023. Drahos earned his medal after being wounded in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and had to fix multiple clerical issues following World War 2. (Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keaton Habeck) VIEW ORIGINAL

OLYMPIA, Wash. — Selfless service is one of the seven Army Values ingrained in every Soldier when they arrive at basic combat training. For Harvey Drahos, 100, an Army veteran of World War II and the Battle of Okinawa, it isn’t just an Army value; it’s a life value.

Drahos’ service in the Army as an expert rifleman assigned to the 96th Infantry Division is where he earned the Purple Heart Medal, among many others, after receiving shrapnel wounds, a traumatic brain injury, hearing loss and other injuries during the Battle of Okinawa on April 6, 1945. But he wouldn’t receive his medal until more than 78 years later.

“At that time I had a mother and two younger brothers, and I was the breadwinner of the family,” Drahos said. “Unfortunately, the war changed everything. And so I went into the Army in 1943 and was sent to Camp Roberts, California, which is the infantry training center, and spent 18 weeks training there.”

The Army honorably discharged Drahos on February 7, 1946. Still, his paperwork became littered with clerical errors, which included incorrectly listing his unit and the field hospital where he received treatment.

“When I received my discharge papers, not only did it say I was a mechanic during the war, but it also said I was in the 98th Regiment,” Drahos said. ‘Well, unfortunately, the 98th regiment was part of the 10th Mountain Division, which was in Italy.”

Back in the 1940s, Soldiers needed their original discharge papers to correct clerical issues. In addition to the clerical issues, Drahos had to deal with lost mail for his records and medals.

Eventually, Drahos received his medals, but not the Purple Heart, and his discharge forms still needed to be amended. Drahos made several attempts to fix his records to reflect his actual unit and field hospital in 1962, 1967, 1968, 2001, 2003, 2007, 2022 and again in 2023.

Misfortune struck Drahos again in July 1973 when the St. Louis, Missouri, fire destroyed the repository and his permanent records. The Department of Veterans Affairs denied his benefits and the Purple Heart due to losing his records. But this did not make Drahos give up.

Retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos and members of his unit.
Retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos and members of his unit. (Photo Credit: Courtesy photo provided by the Drahos Family) VIEW ORIGINAL

Washington’s U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and three Washington U.S. representatives intervened on Drahos’ behalf; the Army Review Board denied all requests. Without original documentation, they could not approve the request. But still, Drahos did not give up hope.

The YouTube channel "Remember WWII," helmed by documentarian Rishi Sharma, discovered Drahos’ story. Sharma’s interview with Drahos went viral with news agencies soon picking up the story. Sharma later made a plea on YouTube to viewers to request the Army Review Board re-examine Drahos' records and award him his Purple Heart.

The public pressure worked.

After one final submission, on August 29, 2023, Drahos heard the news that his Purple Heart was finally approved.

One month later, on September 30, 2023, Drahos was pinned his Purple Heart Medal by America’s First Corps command team, Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson and Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn Carns, closing this chapter in his life.

“The thing that I want us all to take away from Harvey’s bio is the pledge that he made in dire straits,” Brunson said. “That he would live his life in such a way that people would be better just by knowing him. So, I commit myself today to live a life like yours. That I might be better for myself, my family, my community, the Army, and most assuredly, my nation.”

Drahos’ life of selfless service did not end after World War II. When in the field hospital in Okinawa, Drahos pledged that if he survived his wounds, he would dedicate the rest of his life to serving others in his communities.

And that’s precisely what he did.

 Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson (left), America’s First Corps commanding general, retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos and Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn Carns, America’s First Corps command sergeant major, celebrate Drahos earning his Purple Heart Medal in Olympia WA, September 30, 2023. Drahos waited 78 years to earn his medal after he was injured in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and multiple clerical issues following World War 2.
Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson (left), America’s First Corps commanding general, retired Tec. 5 Harvey Drahos and Command Sgt. Maj. Shawn Carns, America’s First Corps command sergeant major, celebrate Drahos earning his Purple Heart Medal in Olympia WA, September 30, 2023. Drahos waited 78 years to earn his medal after he was injured in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and multiple clerical issues following World War 2.
(Photo Credit: U.S. Army photo by Sgt. Keaton Habeck)
VIEW ORIGINAL

“Service is a dedication that you have an opportunity to take to help the community and your fellow man in whatever that service is,” Drahos said. “My life has been full of many opportunities and challenges, but you must keep the faith. Because if you give up, then nothing will happen in a positive way.”

Upon returning from the Pacific, Drahos used the GI Bill to attend college, where he earned a chiropractic degree and set up a practice in Barstow, California. He then attended the University of Southern California Graduate School and earned a disaster administrator certificate.

San Bernardino County approached Drahos to lead the San Bernardino Disaster Relief organization, where he worked for many years and provided leadership and mitigation to multiple disasters in California and Alaska.

But that’s not all Drahos did for his community.

In 1970, Drahos joined the Kiwanis in Hermosa Beach, California. He became the Kiwanis Charter President of Manhattan Beach, California, the following year and then became president of the Apple Valley, California Kiwanis two years later.

In 2010, Drahos moved to Olympia and joined the North Thurton Kiwanis, where he continues to be active, even at age 100. Drahos served as a California Red Cross and Rotary member and flew search and rescue for the U.S. Air Force Auxiliary.

“It’s not about me, it’s about them,” Drahos said. “It’s about humanity and our community and that’s very important to me.”

Today, Drahos continues to be an active community member by attending multiple Kiwanis gatherings. He still rides horses, enjoys meals with friends and always advocates for his fellow veterans.

“My advice to people is don’t give up faith,” Drahos said. “Continue on the course, keep a positive attitude, and I am so proud to have served my country.”