Joseph Jackson, a veteran of Operation Iraqi Freedom, could not have picked a better setting to receive the Purple Heart.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, presented the medal to Jackson during Friday's ceremony to christen the newly built Veterans Affairs medical clinic on Oakdale Road in Modesto. Jackson stood next to his service dog, Chevy, as the congressman pinned the medal to his suit.
Most if not all of the veterans who attended the event wanted to shake Jackson's hand before walking inside to tour the clinic. "I never thought it would happen," Jackson said afterward. "I'm grateful to the congressman and my family."
The Modesto native put in for the medal in 2007 but was not able to furnish the required witness statements. He had to wait for changes in criteria for the Purple Heart in 2010 and received help from Denham's office.
The Navy hospital corpsman suffered a traumatic brain injury while serving in Iraq in May 2006. Members of his unit were riding in a Humvee outside Fallujah when a device exploded beneath the vehicle. Jackson said his unit supported soldiers who dismantled improvised explosive devices and was responding to an IED call.
After the explosion, the corpsman assisted another wounded soldier. He didn't know the extent of his own injuries until later examined by medical personnel, he said.
Jackson, who was medically retired from the Navy, receives health care at veterans clinics in Modesto, Livermore and Palo Alto. His golden retriever service dog helps him to walk straight, he said, and is there in case of an emergency.
The 27-year-old veteran is attending Modesto Junior College with plans to transfer to a four-year university. Jackson practices as a "red shirt" with the MJC swim team. He hopes to start training to enter the Marine Corps marathon in Washington, D.C., later this year, but first needs a leg surgery not related to wartime service, he said.
The regional Veterans Affairs health system, serving veterans in the Bay Area and Northern San Joaquin Valley, has a traumatic brain injury center for soldiers who were rocked by the concussive force of IEDs in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Jackson said he's had to push for some medical services. "I tell a lot of veterans, 'You have to keep fighting. You will get what you deserve if you keep fighting for it.' "