WASHINGTON – Carl Winterwerp will take his “scarred-up” legs down Pennsylvania Avenue for the Inaugural Parade on Thursday, but his reason for doing so goes beyond politics.
The Brandywine veteran and other members of Chapter 2222 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart said they will be in the parade to show their unconditional support for America’s soldiers.
“I am very proud to be part of (the parade) because a lot of people feel that being in Iraq is the wrong thing,” said Winterwerp, whose legs were scarred up by a landmine in Korea. “I feel that regardless of that our military is over there and because of that we need to back our military to the fullest.”
The chapter, currently based in District Heights, will be the only Maryland group among the 80 bands, color guards and other organizations appearing in the parade.
It is also the first time any Purple Heart chapter has marched. James Hontz, aide-de-camp for Maryland, suggested this fall that the group should apply. He got the go-ahead from the national organization.
“I felt that we should have something in the parade itself drawing attention to those who have been wounded in combat through all our history,” Hontz said.
The group was chosen from among more than 340 organizations that applied. Its participation meshes nicely with the inaugural’s theme, “Celebrating Freedom, Honoring Service.”
The Purple Heart veterans will have a float outfitted with red-white-and-blue stars and American flags. It will carry National Commander Robert Lichtenberger, along with veterans representing those wounded in wars since World War II, including at least one who was injured during the Pentagon attack on 9/11.
One of those veterans will be Greg Johnson, 39, a Columbia resident who was shot in the forehead, shoulder and jaw, and run over by a car while in Panama. He said he will ride on the float to tell current soldiers, “Keep doing what you’re doing and thanks a lot.”
Winterwerp and his wife of 52 years, Mary, have paid a few visits to Bethesda Naval Hospital to meet soldiers and offer support. He remembers Korean vets going unrecognized and Vietnam vets being “ostracized.”
“It’s a real moving experience to shake their hands and we’re real proud of them,” Winterwerp said of the wounded soldiers.
Another parade participant, Ransom Jordan, also visits with wounded vets at Bethesda Naval Hospital and Andrews Air Force Base.
“They’re real young, that’s the part I look at real close,” said Jordan, the national sergeant at arms for the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He said it seems that many of the wounded are reservists or from the National Guard, and that there are more wounded female soldiers as well.
“I tell them to hold their head up high and welcome them back home,” said Jordan, who survived a bullet to the thigh in Vietnam and also served in Korea with the Army. “It worries me a whole lot, half have never fired a weapon, they’re young, they volunteered.”
Purple Hearts are awarded to soldiers who are wounded during combat with an enemy and whose wound requires medical attention. The origins of the award date back to George Washington.
While the parade appearance will be the first for a Purple Heart chapter, Ray Funderburk, national director of public relations, hopes it will not be the last.
With American men and women coming back from Iraq and Afghanistan with Purple Hearts of their own, it is more important than ever to show them support, Funderburk said.
“We deserve to be in the parade, the least (reason) of which is that we’re at war,” he said.
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