Port Washington resident David Merton Hoile was surprised when he was given the Purple Heart for wounds he received during the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago.
Hoile was wounded while serving in Vietnam on April 16, 1969. He was surprised when U.S. Army veteran and Medal of Honor recipient Gary Wetzel, also a Purple Heart recipient, gave him the military honor.
“I am still flabbergasted, I am in shock,” said Hoile, holding up the medal.
When Hoile walked into the media room at Miller Park on Saturday where the Stars and Stripes Honor Flight was preparing for the premiere of Field of Honor. The event was meant to bring together thousands of veterans as well as feature the world premiere of the organization's documentary.
But for Hoile, it was fixing an oversight – giving him the recognition he deserved for his time overseas.
“I wasn't expecting any of this, but I am honored to be here. ... I always felt that I deserved this,” Hoile said. “I never wanted to get it for glory, but I just wanted my Purple Heart.”
Hoile didn’t expect the ceremony in front of dozens of TV cameras, friends and family.
“You talk about total shock, what the heck was that all about?” said Hoile, laughing to his friends and family. “Thank you, but still, I am like why is everybody looking at me?”
The Purple Heart was enacted by George Washington in August 1782 for those who gave “his blood in defense of his homeland and shall forever be revered by his fellow countrymen.”
Saturday’s ceremony was a chance to “correct the military record of a man who went to war in 1967,” said Jim Duff, acting director of Milwaukee County Veteran Affairs.
“This is a man who shed his blood on foreign soil and for 40 years his record was silent, and we're going to officially correct that," Duff said.
Vietnam War veterans received a poor, cold homecoming when they returned from the unpopular war. Communities in recent years have tried to make it right, holding special events to honor those who sacrificed for the country. A special homecoming event in April at Fort Irwin, California, gave Vietnam veterans a chance to be honored for their work.
In 2010, Lambeau Field in Green Bay brought 70,000 Vietnam veterans, their friends and family to finally welcome home the veterans.
There’s no way to ever thank veterans enough for their service, said Joe Dean, Stars and Stripes Honor Flight chairman and a Port Washington alderman.
“We try anyway at Stars and Stripes Honor Flight,” Dean said.