Dear John Kerry....
....please take note.
The story of Marine Staff Sgt. Robert Arellano's wound is not exactly heroic. He was sitting in a tent in southern Iraq when the 9mm handgun he was repairing went off, sending a bullet through his left leg.Now John, if the grunts know when a Purple Heart is undeserved, surely you did.
That's why his heart sank in spring 2003, when he heard that he would receive the Purple Heart as he recovered at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda.
Protests to superior officers were brushed aside.
"I told them I didn't think I deserved it," said Arellano, 38, of Oceanside, Calif. The thought of wearing a medal he didn't earn "was eating me alive."
Then a letter arrived two months ago making things even worse. The Purple Heart pinned on him nearly two years earlier had been "an administrative error" because his wound was not "caused directly or indirectly by enemy action." Ten other Marines who sustained noncombat injuries got the same news, from the office of the commandant of the Marine Corps.
'Slap in the face'
For a branch of the service that considers itself the most rigorous in the awarding of medals, such revocations are exceptionally rare, according to military historians and veterans. And for the 11 Marines, this was a final indignity added to the shattered bones, crushed intestines and broken teeth they suffered in a war zone.
Even worse, they said, in a culture in which careers are chronicled by decorations on uniforms, was the shame they felt at having worn the medals for almost two years.
"It was a slap in the face. The way it was handled was atrocious," said 1st Lt. Dustin Ferrell, who was badly injured when his Humvee crashed into an Army truck. Gen. William Nyland, assistant commandant of the Marine Corps, pinned the medal on his green hospital gown at the Bethesda medical center.
The Purple Heart, based on an award created by George Washington, is bestowed much more frequently than medals such as the Silver and Bronze stars, which are given for exceptional acts of heroism and are based on nominations. Purple Hearts are awarded to those who meet guidelines for having sustained injuries related to combat with enemy forces.