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Change of heart: 47 years later, Tenn. veteran receives medal

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Forty-seven years ago, John Morse was an Army soldier who turned down a Purple Heart while recovering from shrapnel wounds in a hospital bed in South Vietnam.

On Thursday night, Morse stood before the Blount County Commission and was officially presented that medal.

Morse said when he originally was offered the medal he refused, but kept the certificate that went with the medal.

“I felt I didn’t deserve it. I was in a hospital and a lot of guys were a lot worse than I was with arms and legs missing, and it was just the way I felt at the time,” he said. “I was 19 and I figured they deserved it more than I did.”

Morse was assigned to the 191st Assault Helicopter Company in Vietnam. On Oct. 29, 1967, he was standing guard duty for the 9th Infantry Division at Bearcat Base when the enemy attacked the compound with mortars. Morse was hit in the face and eyes with shrapnel. Two Army soldiers were killed in the attack and Morse was sent to the military hospital in Long Binh.

Morse was blind for eight days before regaining his vision.

Through the years he never considered asking for the medal until a conversation in November with Blount County Veterans Service Officer Nathan Weinbaum.

Morse said he went to the Veterans Affairs Office in Maryville to ask about receiving compensation because of health problems associated with being exposed to Agent Orange during the war.

“At that moment we were putting in for Agent Orange, (Weinbaum) asked, ‘Do you have anything else?’ ” Morse said.

That is when he mentioned that he never got his Purple Heart.

Morse said he got the medal about two months ago, but it was being officially presented by Maj. Gen. (retired) John D’Araujo before Thursday night’s Blount County Commission meeting. The prospect of standing in front of the crowd was nerve-wracking, he said.

“It is intimidating and I’m nervous, but after all these years I decided — you get more mature — I felt I deserved it, but I’m anxious to get it over with and get the limelight off me,” he said. “It ought to be on the current service people. They are the heroes now with what they’re going through with doing two or three tours.”

Morse said his son-in-law, Sgt. First Class Paul Dimond of the 98th Division Army Reserves, is set to receive his own Purple Heart during a March 28 ceremony in New Hampshire. He was wounded in Afghanistan by an improvised explosive device on Dec. 8, 2011.

“It is really gratifying. He is a son-in-law but he is also a brother because of the military and the Purple Heart. It is a unique situation,” Morse said.
 

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