Money needed to add names to Purple Heart monument

Jan 26 2013 - 11:40pm

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"My kids ask me, 'Why didn't you duck?'" said Jay Wells, who came home from two years in Vietnam with holes in his skin that God didn't plan.

"I tell them, 'Where did I get shot?' and they say 'Below the knees,' and I say, 'So if I duck, I'm dead, right?"

It almost worked out that way anyway.

"I took an AK-47 round in my ankle," he said. "I should have lost my foot, but the bullet shattered. They think the bullet came from far away and was spent, but it kicked my leg back and the other one went, too. I went down.

"Then the guy in the tree got me twice in the back."

Which is why Jay wears a little Purple Heart pin on the edge of his shirt.

That pin represents an award that nobody, ever, could take away from him.

"You can have all the rest," he said, "but not that one."

I had lunch with Jay and John Cole (a Chinese bullet at Chosin Reservoir in Korea put a hole in John's arm he could look through) to discuss a $25,000 problem facing the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).

Here's the deal. To get a Purple Heart, you have to be wounded in combat.

"It's the only medal you don't have to be recommended for," John said.

Guys don't forget getting wounded. Jay and John and a few others think the rest of Utah shouldn't forget guys who got wounded either. Ten years ago, MOPH decided to build a monument to everyone in Utah who'd been awarded a Purple Heart.

They started collecting names. They succeeded beyond their wildest dreams.

The first six slabs of granite with 696 names are already set up by the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home. The stone was donated by the LDS Church, Botts Monument donated a lot of the work and they found money, somewhere, to get the names engraved.

But now, they've got another 600 names and no more money.

It costs $35 to engrave a name. Six hundred names times $35 is $21,000, plus the cost to set up the monuments. Jay figures $25,000 will do it.

They're asking people who submit names now to also donate $35, but that doesn't handle the backlog.

Where did all those names come from?

Well, for example, Jay found 20 on the Utah Korean War monument in Salt Lake City. They died, they qualify, "and I don't know if they have family here or not, but those names deserve to be on the monument."

Some people submit names and can't afford to pay the fee. Widows on fixed incomes, young military families scraping by. Jay and John hate to say no.

The guys don't feel they can ask the monument folks to do that much work for free. Botts has already donated much, they have got bills to pay too. They'd like to get the next five monuments engraved and set up at the Ogden veterans home in time for Memorial Day, or at least next Aug. 7, the anniversary of the day in 1932 when the Purple Heart was reinstated by the military.

So, anyone with some money to spare, help them out. Make the check out to MOPH and send it to Jay Wells at 3266 N. 1325 West, Pleasant View, UT 84414-1355.

You don't even need to get shot to do it. Jay and John have done that for you.

The Wasatch Rambler is the opinion of Charles Trentelman. He can be reached at 801-625-4232, or ctrentelman@standard.net. He also blogs at www.standard.net.

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