Dear John's Purple Heart, 75 years later ...
My husband and I recently attended a service in Iowa where a WWII Veteran, 93 year-old John Gualtier, received his Purple Heart. Surrounded by approximately 100 friends and family, he was presented this long-awaited honor by U.S. Army Major General Robert Sentman (Retired).
John is the subject of a book in my series titled Barbed Wire Wings. He was a combat medic who was wounded by shrapnel saving lives on the front lines. His book title refers to John's experience in Europe when his unit liberated a concentration camp. John was spoon feeding a Jewish prisoner when the man died in his arms. Afterward, John was sent to Nuremberg to help with the medical needs of the Allies who were guarding Nazi war criminals. Decades later, after years of struggle and failed suicide attempts, John eventually found his peace during counseling at the VA Hospital in Iowa City. He began speaking to groups of veterans encouraging them to get the help they need. A doctor at this hospital once told me that he was credited for saving dozens of lives there. I'm so proud of this WWII hero!
After completing the book project, John's young author Imi Duchesneau said "I learned the story of a brave, courageous and caring medic. John was amazing to write about. He has an awesome story. I learned so much and I'm glad I was able to do it." A young lady named Alyssa Landi drew the incredible artwork for this book. She said "What I got from my A BOOK by ME experience was the different perspective on people who have been traumatized by the brutality of war. I didn't think about what veterans went through after serving under I met John Gualtier."
I love teaching kids patriotism. As a writing coach, I've been blessed to sit in on dozens (and dozens and dozens) of interviews with students, I don't think our veterans and the other subjects know how much power they carry. I'm not talking about a weapon here, I'm talking about sharing their acts of compassion and kindness (like John feeding a weak Jewish prisoner) during unbelievable times of cruelty and horror.
John spent decades healing from the horrors of WWII. I am so very thankful that my "troops" are young people who truly care about their stories. Their gifts and talents combined with my team's hard work gave John and many others the gift of remembrance.