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Purple Heart recipients in chapters around US

SPRINGFIELD TOWNSHIP, Ohio -- Some were shot.

Others were injured in land mine explosions, by rocket or mortar attacks, by roadside bombs or struck by shrapnel from grenades or many other ways.

Every member of a veterans' group that met on Saturday morning had one life-altering and dramatic thing in common.

All were recipients of the Purple Heart, the award given to members of the military who have been killed or wounded in battle.

"There are so many people who don't understand that freedom isn't free," said Bill Maxwell, 83, a Marine veteran of the Korean War and a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 699 with its 151 members.

There are fifteen chapters of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Ohio and 478 chapters nationwide.

The Akron area chapter, Chapter 699, was established in 1999 and disbanded in 2000 and then was re-established again in 2011.

While most of the members of Chapter 699 are Vietnam veterans, there are some World War II and Korean vets along with younger veterans from the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, like Rob Ballis and Bryan Marshall.

Ballis, 34, of Cuyahoga Falls, an Army Iraq veteran, was wounded in 2005 in Iraq when shrapnel from a rocket went into his side.

The group, Ballis said, gives him a chance to meet with other veterans who have been wounded in combat.

"It helps talking to the Vietnam guys," said Ballis, who said he suffers from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).

Marshall, 35, of Portage County's Mantua Township, served 12 years in the Air Force and in the Army.

He was injured from a roadside bomb blast that killed three of his friends in a truck in front of him while serving in the Army in April 2007.

Married and the father of two, Marshall is helped with his PTSD with a service dog named Mic that stays by his side to assist him. "He brings me back to the moment," said Marshall.

Talking to the older vets helps greatly, he said.

"I am just trying to get my bearings," he said.

Every Wednesday, some members of the group spend time at the Summit County Veterans Service Commission on East Waterloo Road in Akron, greeting vets who show up for help.

The national group was chartered by Congress in 1958 and has 45,000 members.

The website of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor estimates that 1.8 million Purple Heart medals have been awarded.

The Department of Veterans Affairs reports that the award was first issued by General George Washington as the "Badge of Military Merit" in 1782 and was then reintroduced as the Purple Heart on Feb. 22, 1932, on the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth.

Paul Suscinski, a 66-year-old Vietnam Marine veteran from Norton who is retired from the insurance business, was shot twice in 1966 in Vietnam and later served a second tour in Vietnam. He said being wounded and receiving a Purple Heart, "opened my eyes to the realization that there is a God and there is a higher being than all of us and he saved my life that day."

At Saturday's meeting, Larry Emery, 70, a Marine Vietnam veteran from Plain Township, said the prayer.

"We come to you with thankful hearts for this time together," Emery said as the vets bowed their heads together.

Bill Maxwell, of Springfield Township, was wounded in December 1950 during the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir in the Korean War.

"A grenade blew a hole in my leg," he said of his injury.

Maxwell likes talking to the younger members of the group, even though speaking of war experiences brings up much pain.

The fact is, said Maxwell, an Ohio Bell retiree, that there is a price for freedom and that is what everyone who ever received a Purple Heart has paid.

"It costs somebody," he said. "It cost me a bit."

jcarney@thebeaconjournal.com

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