ST. PETER, Minn. — Earl Meyer remembers in vivid detail when his platoon came under heavy fire during the Korean War — he still has shrapnel embedded in his thigh.
But over 70 years later, the 96-year-old is still waiting for the U.S. Army to recognize his injury and to award him a Purple Heart medal, which honors service members wounded or killed in combat.
The Struggle for Recognition
Meyer has provided the Army with documents to back up his assertion that he was wounded in combat in June 1951. Doctors at the Department of Veterans Affairs agreed that his account of the shrapnel coming from a mortar attack was probably true. But few men in his unit who would have witnessed the battle have survived, and he thinks the medic who treated him on the battlefield was killed before he could file the paperwork.
An Army review board in April issued what it called a final rejection of Meyer’s request for a Purple Heart, citing insufficient documentation. His case highlights how it can be a struggle for wounded veterans to get medals they’ve earned when the fog of war, the absence of records and the passage of time make it challenging to produce proof.
Meyer took the rare step of suing the Department of Defense and the Army in September. The Army’s Office of Public Affairs said it doesn’t comment on ongoing litigation. But after The Associated Press made requests for comment on Meyer’s case, the office of the Army’s top noncommissioned officer, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Weimer, said that it’s going to take another look.
Support from Family and Veterans
Meyer said in an interview that he wouldn’t have pursued the Purple Heart because his injuries were relatively minor compared to those of many men he served with, but his three daughters persuaded him. Growing up, they knew that he had been injured in the war, but like many veterans, he never talked much about it. It’s only been in the past decade or so that he’s opened up to them, which led them to urge his pursuit of a Purple Heart.
The Challenges of Documentation
Meyer’s main obstacle has been the lack of paperwork. He told the AP the medic who bandaged his leg told him he would file the forms to show he was wounded in combat. But he never did. Meyer thinks the medic may have been killed in action. Only a few members of his platoon made it out unharmed.
Continued Efforts for Recognition
So U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar ‘s staff then helped him get documents from the National Archives and made numerous follow-up inquiries. But even with the additional evidence, the Army Board for Correction of Military Records turned him down. Klobuchar said this week that she’s not giving up.
Legal Battle for the Purple Heart
Meyer’s attorney, Alan Anderson, wrote in the lawsuit that review boards have awarded Purple Hearts under similar circumstances — sometimes under court order. He said the board noted the problems of relying solely on medical records when it approved a Purple Heart in a separate 2015 case.