WASHINGTON (Army News Service, Nov. 2, 2006) - Citing the long, proud tradition of sacrifice and valor of Americans in combat, Secretary of Veterans Affairs Jim Nicholson yesterday awarded the Purple Heart to four servicemembers wounded in Iraq or Afghanistan.

"Our freedoms, democratic traditions and American way of life rest on the shoulders of heroes who are willing to face extraordinary challenges and make astonishing acts of self-sacrifice," Nicholson said.

In a ceremony at the National Press Club, Nicholson presented the award to Pvt. Kevin Araujo of the 10th Mountain Division; Spec. Nicholas Helfferich of the 2nd Battalion, 37th Armor, 1st Armored Division; and Sgt. Tyrone Carelock, a National Guardsman with the 74th Troop Command.

Nicholson was joined by Tom Poulter, commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. With 36,000 members - all recipients of the award - MPOH is opening the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor at New Windsor, N.Y., on Nov. 10. Araujo, Helfferich and Carelock will be among the youngest Soldiers honored during the ceremony next week.

"We have patriots who've fought in Iraq, Afghanistan, Vietnam, Korea, World War II and every conflict in between among our members," said Poulter. "To them we get to say, 'Welcome home.'"

The Hall of Honor will be dedicated to the 1.7 million Americans wounded or killed in action while serving in the military since the Revolutionary War. The museum will feature biographies of all Purple Heart recipients.

The Purple Heart is considered the oldest U.S. combat award. It was initially created as the Badge of Military Merit by Gen. George Washington, who was commonly known for recognizing outstanding valor and merit in his Soldiers.

The Purple Heart differs from all other decorations in that the individual is not "recommended" for it, but entitled to it upon meeting such criteria as being wounded in combat.

For more information on the museum and the award, visit www.purpleheart.org.