Former player to accept Purple Heart at halftime of UW-L game
La Crosse Tribune
LA CROSSE, Wisc. — Second Lt. Jason Church can’t wait to see the gridiron again.
The last time he played at Veterans Memorial Field at the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse was as a defensive end for the Eagles.
He will return a hero.
Church lost both legs in Afghanistan after surviving a bomb blast.
The Army infantryman plans to accept the Purple Heart during halftime of the Nov. 10 match-up between UW-L and UW-Whitewater. His father, Col. David Church, will present him with the award.
The ceremony will be part of a two-day celebration to honor current and former members of the military the weekend before Veterans Day.
“Things like this show that the school cares about its alumni far beyond the time you spend in the university itself,” Jason Church said.
Church was with Comanche Company, an Army infantry unit, southwest of Kandahar when his platoon struck an improvised explosive device.
After more than 20 surgeries, Church lives in an apartment complex at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, undergoing physical therapy. Recovery could take a year, as therapy continues and doctors fit him with prosthetics, Church said.
“It really just depends on how things go,” Church said.
The university announced plans Tuesday to offer free tickets to the Nov. 10 game.
University athletics will host pregame festivities to honor local veterans as part of the “Pack the Vet for the Vets” event, which also includes Church’s halftime ceremony.
“We think it’s going to be a great opportunity for our campus and our community to honor this population,” said Josh Whitman, UW-L’s athletic director.
Church will also speak at an 8 a.m. breakfast Nov. 11 at Mitchell Hall, hosted by Freedom Honor Flight.
Church still remembers his last game at Veterans Memorial, a 49-14 UW-L victory over UW-Eau Claire.
“That was a good time,” he said.
He wanted to return to the university to accept the Purple Heart as a way to reconnect with the community. Both the field and campus hold cherished memories, Church said.
“I’ve never really been one to strive for recognition,” Church said. “I think it’s a bigger deal for friends and family than it is for myself.”
David Church knows his son is proud, but receiving the Purple Heart is bittersweet.
“I’m sure he wishes he wasn’t,” David Church said. “He’d give it right back if he could get his legs back.”
David Church graduated from West Point, served in Desert Storm and is still an active Army reservist.
Many times, military leaders will present Walter Reed patients with the Purple Heart at the hospital, but Jason Church wanted his father to present the decoration, given only to combat members wounded in battle.
“I said I considered it an honor,” David Church said. “To be able to present him with an award that reflects his sacrifice is very humbling.”