VAILS GATE, N.Y. (Army News Service, Nov. 30, 2006) - The oldest U.S. combat medal has a new home of honor on a site where Americans first fought for freedom.

The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor opened in a Nov. 10 dedication ceremony at the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site, where Gen. George Washington's Army camped toward the end of the Revolutionary War and where he first awarded the Badge of Military Merit, a small purple cloth that became the model for the Purple Heart.

The $6 million Hall of Honor is first in the nation to recognize U.S. servicemembers wounded or killed in action from the American Revolution to the global war on terror. It will serve as a living memorial, preserving and sharing stories of Purple Heart recipients through exhibits, live and videotaped interviews, and a Roll of Honor with an interactive computer program detailing the stories of each hero.

Stories of more than 12,000 veterans who served during World War II, Korea, Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan and other conflicts are already being shared. The hall continues to receive hundreds of stories weekly.

The 7,500-square-feet facility includes a reception area, gallery, exhibit hall, learning and education center for school groups and tours, and a presentation room. Through historical photographs, documentary film footage, period objects and videotaped recollections by veterans themselves, the Hall of Honor provides a multimedia show exploring the spirit of the American people in times of crisis.

Items on exhibit include photographs and papers donated by veterans, presidential certificates, uniforms of recipients and other related correspondence.

"The personal courage shown and sacrifices made by these military heroes represent the honor associated with the Purple Heart medal," said Bernadette Castro, New York State Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation commissioner. "The investment toward establishing the national Hall of Honor will create a destination that will provide legions of visitors a glimpse into history. We can be sure that the bravery demonstrated by these valiant servicemen and women will be forever preserved and documented at this revered site."

Over the last two years, Governor George E. Pataki helped raise $1.5 million in start-up funds for the planning, design and development of the Hall of Honor. The remaining funds came from donations by various organizations, as well as veterans and their families.

"The Purple Heart Hall of Honor will be a national symbol of the sacrifices made by our servicemen and women in the name of freedom," said state Senator Bill Larkin. "We can never repay these brave men and women, but we can certainly honor them and express our deep appreciation for all they have done. The Hall of Honor will do just that. It will serve as a powerful reminder to all of the cost of freedom, and it will be a source of pride and honor to our veterans and their families."

In addition to the cooperation of veterans and their families, the project enjoys the support of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, the national organization whose members are themselves Purple Heart recipients.

The Hall of Honor is open 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesdays through Saturdays and Mondays and from 1 to 5 p.m. Sundays year round.

Families who want to share their stories or other materials should call (845) 561-1765 or write to: National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, P.O. Box 207, Vails Gate, N.Y. 12584.

(Jason B. Cutshaw writes for the Fort Drum Blizzard.)