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Thousands of dollars dispersed to wounded warriors

JACKSONVILLE, N.C. — For those who gave some, a special gift came just in time for Christmas.

The Military Order of the Purple Heart, a local veteran service organization, distributed money to Purple Heart recipients from local bases on Friday morning as part of the annual Christmas Leave Fund. The fund, which has distributed more than $2 million over the last eight years, supported more than 200 Marines and sailors this year, giving many the opportunity to go home for the holidays they otherwise wouldn’t have had.

The Purple Heart, the oldest military medal, is awarded to members of the armed forces who are wounded in combat and posthumously to the family in the name of those killed in action.

“The holidays are always hard on any family but when you’re wounded it makes it harder to do things you want to,” said Dennis Downs, 33, and a Purple Heart recipient with 2nd Tank Battalion aboard Camp Lejeune. “It’s little things like this that make the holidays a bit easier for us and it shows that people in the community and the country still appreciate our sacrifice.”

While Downs would still have financially been able to go home for the holidays, the money he received from the Military Order of the Purple Heart will help him ensure that his children and wife have as bright of a Christmas as they deserve, he said.

“I don’t like robbing Peter to pay Paul,” Downs said. “I’ve always looked up to older veterans because I know they didn’t have things like this when they came home. I’ve always thanked them for their service. It hits home now that they’re thanking us for our service.”

Shannon Huddleston, who accepted a check on behalf of her husband, said it was hard to believe three years had passed since her husband was injured. He was awarded the Purple Heart for wounds received in an explosion in Afghanistan.

The holidays for her and children are sometimes more difficult knowing they came so close to losing him, she said.

“We probably wouldn’t go if it wasn’t for this money,” said Huddleston, who only sees her family once or twice a year. “It means so much to be able to spend Christmas with family and (my kids) sharing those memories with their grandparents. It truly means a lot.”

Instances like this, she said, where people look out for the combat wounded, leave her full of thanks, she said.

“There’s no way to tell you how thankful we are for this,” Huddleston said. “Money isn’t just lying around for stuff like this, so for people to help us when they don’t know us, all I can do is say thank you.”

Members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, who raised and handed out the funds on Friday, said they just want to do right by today’s warriors and give them what the veterans didn’t get when they came home from war decades ago, according to Joe Clary, the state commander of the order. Clary added that there is no better feeling than doing right by the combat wounded.

“We hope this shows our support of the current generation in harm’s way,” said Clary, a Vietnam veteran of the Army. “We are all combat wounded. We know exactly the sacrifices they are making. We hope this educates the public on how much these men and women have given at war.”
 

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