By Bob Reinert/USAG-Natick Public AffairsMay 24, 2011
Sergeant Deidra Neeley had no intention of making Massachusetts history Aug. 27, 2009. It just worked out that way.
Neeley, an Army combat medic, was helping wounded Soldiers in Barg-e-Matal, Nuristan Province, Afghanistan, when shrapnel from a rocket-propelled grenade entered her left hand.
She didn't know it at the time, but Neeley, from Middleboro, would become the first Massachusetts woman to earn a Purple Heart. She was welcomed to The Military Order of the Purple Heart in a May 21 ceremony in Marlborough.
"It's an honor," Neeley said. "Of all the firsts that I could have done, I definitely wasn't choosing to get injured."
Brigadier General John J. McGuiness, Natick Soldier Systems Center senior commander, spoke at the ceremony.
"What a great story that the first (Massachusetts) female recipient of the Purple Heart comes out of Middleboro, in the shadows of Lexington and Concord, where this Army was born 235 years ago," McGuiness said. "That spirit of service to the nation has been there for so long."
McGuiness pointed out that Neeley comes from a military family.
"She was there serving Soldiers as a combat medic," McGuiness said. "And that's when her unit got attacked."
Neeley recovered from her wound and continues to serve as NCO in charge of the Department of Pediatrics at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.
"I highly recommend joining the military," said Neeley, a 12-year Army veteran. "I believe it's our duty to serve (a) country that's so wonderful."
McGuiness, who has served two combat tours, said he was honored to be in the presence of Neeley and other members of the MOPH.
"This crowd right here is powerful, because all of you are patriots and you're heroes," McGuiness said. "And each one (has) your own, individual story of sacrifice, what you've done for this country. And I think it's phenomenal that you're bringing Deidra into the team."
Since World War I, approximately 1.9 million Americans have received the Purple Heart. More than 7,000 have earned the award in Afghanistan, 35,000 in Iraq. There are currently 8,000 Purple Heart plates on automobiles registered in Massachusetts.
"It really charges me up," said McGuiness, "just to see all of you great heroes and what you've done for the nation."