Iwo Jima veteran finally gets Purple Heart
August 21, 2003
ARLINGTON, Va. — It’s taken 58 years, but Tom Porter finally has his Purple Heart.
Porter, now 77, was wounded as he fought with Marines of the 3rd Division in the battle to capture the Japanese island of Iwo Jima.
On Tuesday, he shifted uncomfortably in his seat as Lt. Gen. Robert Magnus, deputy commandant for Programs and Resources, took center stage of the commandant’s theater at Marine Corps Headquarters in Arlington.
“It seems like a long time ago,” Magnus started to say Tuesday during a brief belated ceremony to award Porter the medal. “And it was,” he chuckled.
Porter on occasion reached to squeeze the hand of his wife of 51 years, smiling when she squeezed back. She’s his anchor.
On March 7, 1945, the rifleman, then an 18-year-old private, was carrying a litter loaded with ammunition to gunners manning the frontline when, during heavy combat with the enemy, he was shot.
But Porter never was presented with the Purple Heart, created by George Washington and the first American award given the common warrior.
No one really knows why the Corps never awarded him the medal. And for several reasons, Porter never bothered to pursue getting it, though his service record annotated he merited the award. He thought asking for it was self-promotion, not in his character.
The service record notation allowed him to collect his disability check, “and I figured I was getting well paid,” he said. He fought for 10 days on the island, and his treatment for his injury meant leaving behind his comrades. For that, he still feels guilt. In the battle for Iwo Jima, 5,931 Americans were killed and 17,372 wounded.
“And I didn’t think you got the award for my type of injury,” Porter said, sheepishly smiling. You see, Mr. Porter had been shot in the buttocks.
But bottom line, everyone who needed to know, already did.
“I knew and the Lord knew I had earned it,” the Kentucky native said. “Seems to me, that’s all that mattered.”
Magnus praised the former young private and his fellow Marines.
“Tom Porter was part of one of the last great campaigns of the great generation, and the greatest generation’s great war,” Magnus said. Porter was among those for whom “valor was commonplace,” Magnus said.
“His platoon and rifle company were involved in tremendously personal, intense and violent combat against a determined, and quite frankly, a very professional and dedicated foe,” Magnus said. “We didn’t like the Japanese … but we certainly came to respect the tremendous dedication of them.
“The brotherhood that we call the Corps was in its finest hour, and we’ve seen a lot of fine hours,” Magnus said.
The Corps’ leaders addressed what had been left unfinished for nearly six decades, said Tom Davis, a family friend and former soldier who retired a colonel after 25 years in the Army.
“He fought in one of the most horrific battles anyone has ever seen,” said Davis, who brought the oversight to the Corps’ attention. “The Marine Corps owed him this award.”
And so, from their Madisonville, Ky., farm, Tom and Kathleen Porter traveled to Virginia for a ceremony attended by some 25 people, and which brought tears to the aging man’s piercing baby blues.
“I tell you, it’s an honor to be here,” Porter said, “but even more of an honor to be a Marine.”