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March/April 2007

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A Cathedral of Courage

BY DANA “FINN” HALLFORS & WILLIAM LARES

At New Windsor Cantonment, just north of West Point, George Washington’s troops encamped for the last time at the close of the American Revolutionary War. To honor the service of his men, he selected a few to receive a small purple cloth Badge of Merit. In 1932, the new Purple Heart Medal, which took its shape and color from Washington but added his profile, was presented to 150 veterans of World War I on the same grounds.

Last November, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor was dedicated to honor and to memorialize those veterans who have received the Purple Heart and to record and preserve their stories. It sits on a hill at the site of Washington’s final encampment, now known as the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site. It’s administered by the New York State Office of Parks, Recreation, and Historic Preservation.

What started simply as a letter from Patric Morrison, asking why there were no honors for Purple Heart recipients, came to fruition last November 10 when three thousand people gathered to dedicate the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. Hundreds of veterans wearing their Purple Hearts were joined by their families, fellow veterans, politicians both local and national, and a grateful nation. Some had come from across the country. At nine o’clock, the ribbon was cut.

VVA National President John Rowan was there, accompanied by VVA Region 2 Director Fred Elliott, New York State Council President Ned Foote, NYSC Secretary Francisco Muniz, and NYSC Eastern Director Samuel Hall.

The ceremony began as Patrick J. Douglas blew the notes of “The Rowan Tree and Wings” into his bagpipes. When he finished playing, Douglas donated his bagpipes to the Hall of Honor. He had played those pipes at more than seventy-five military services since March 2004.

New York Gov. George Pataki and U.S. Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton were among those who spoke at the event. Pataki called the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor “a beautiful cathedral of courage.” Local State Sen. William Larkin said: “This is to let people know that these are the sacrifices that were made so you could live a free life.”

Sen. Clinton promised continued federal support and recognition for the hall. Tom Poulter, national commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, asked everyone to remember “those young men and women who gave their tomorrows so we could have our todays.”

The 7,500-square-foot facility will share the stories of America’s combat-wounded veterans and those who never returned. The Hall of Honor will collect and preserve the stories of Purple Heart recipients from all branches and across generations. Their stories will be preserved and shared through a series of exhibits, live and videotaped interviews of veterans, and the Roll of Honor—an interactive computer program detailing the stories of each veteran. An estimated 600,000 Purple Heart recipients live across the country.

The Hall of Honor will be the nation’s sole repository dedicated to the preservation of these stories of sacrifice. Visitors to the museum can search for stories using several criteria, including name and location, or they can take advantage of special recording booths to add their own stories to the archive.

More than thirty thousand Purple Hearts have been awarded since 2001. Keynote speaker U.S. Army Lt. Gen. Steven Witcome, commander of the Third Army, reminded those in attendance that the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is both historic and current. “We are a nation in war,” he said, “against an enemy that is both faceless and nation-less. There will be more Purple Hearts awarded.”Ω

For more information, contact the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site, P.O. Box 207, 374 Temple Hill Road, Vails Gate, NY 12584; telephone 845-561-1765, or visit the website, www.nysparks.com/heritage/purple_hrt.asp

Upcoming activities include an August 7 celebration of the 225th anniversary of the Badge of Military Merit.

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