‘Last Flag Flying’ Interview with Executive Producer Tom Wright

The Purple Heart Foundation is proud to announce the premiere of the film ‘Last Flag Flying.’ The film follows a Vietnam Corpsman’s journey with his two Marine friends to take his Iraq war son to his final resting place. We got the chance to talk with the Executive Producer of ‘Last Flag Flying’, Tom Wright, about the film and his life growing up in a military family.

 

 

You come from a military background. Can you tell us about who in your family served?

Among those in my family who’ve served are a grandfather, James Irwin Alger, who was severely wounded in France during WWI and an uncle, Philip Ray Kottraba, who signed up for the Marines in his teens and ended up fighting in several key battles of the Pacific theater during WWII. My father, as a young Air Force officer, was an instructor of pilots in San Marcos, Texas, in the 1950s.

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Tom Wright with his mother and father.

Other relatives served honorably in the U.S. Army and National Guard. When my Uncle Phil passed away recently, we found his uniform in a closet. While he had never talked much about the war, the ribbons he had earned spoke volumes – a Presidential Unit Citation (PUC) for extraordinary heroism, and TWO Navy Unit Citations (NUC) for meritorious service, Good Conduct and WWII Victory Medal. He was a corporal in the First Marine Division and I wish I had learned more from him before he passed.

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Uncle Phil’s Marine Corps uniform

How did your family’s military service shape you as a person and in your work?

Well, for one thing, it was inspiring – a source of fascination, awe and respect. Those in my family who served did so almost exclusively during war-time and they seemed a breed apart. More often though, a ‘military family’ today is comprised of spouses, siblings, parents, and children who routinely make personal sacrifices for our country every day – being in harm’s way or having a loved one there regularly, multiple tours of duty and/or frequent reassignments, years of faithful service followed by retirement and possibly a second civilian career thereafter. Most of all, it carries with it the daunting prospect of perhaps some day joining one of our country’s most hallowed communities: the families of troops killed in combat. The word ‘hero’ is often overused, but to me it applies to those on the battlefield as well as those they leave behind. Personal stories of service to God and country have been a lifelong interest and that’s reflected, I think, in many of the projects I’ve worked on over the years.

 

They say “It all starts with the script.” How did you know that the script for ‘Last Flag Flying’ was one that you wanted to produce?

In today’s world, I think it’s clear that most Americans do not fully understand the military community’s sacrifice. As a result, a lot of veterans rightly feel that America is disengaged from its wars. With so few doing the work of defending freedom for so many, there now exists a disconnect at the heart of our society that must be addressed and healed. ‘Last Flag Flying’ tells the story of one man’s sacrifice and how he shoulders unbearable loss with the help of two old friends, [who are] also veterans. When I first read Darryl Ponicsan’s book, it was instantly clear this was a story that needed to be told. And once Richard Linklater showed an interest in directing and co-writing the script with Darryl, the film became inevitable. These men are massively talented. Darryl is one of our great storytellers, particularly with regard to military life, having authored ‘The Last Detail’, ‘Cinderella Liberty’ and ‘Taps’, among others. And Richard is simply one of the best film directors working today. His movies speak to what it means to be American and always deal with relationships in a meaningful way. His humanism is profoundly moving. Both men are compassionate and neither shies away from dialogue as a primary means of communication, which is a rarity in today’s cinematic world of video games, super heroes, explosions and computer-generated special effects.

 

What was the most important lesson learned when producing this film and what did you learn from it?

Watching Rick work with his actors and crew, I was reminded that the best movies happen when there are bonds of trust and respect among collaborators. Sufficient prep time contributes to an ease of process that leads to ultimate success. He has the keen instincts of a four-star general with all the confidence that implies. With Rick, nothing is forced because he knows what he’s doing and he’s ready for anything. He allows for small surprises because he knows what leads to joy in the viewer. His methods encourage the blossoming of wonderful performances by his actors. I’ve never been on a more relaxed set in my life. Amazon Studios wisely gave him the autonomy and unconditional support he needed to make this movie the right way. As an executive producer, in a case like this, the best thing you can do is get out of the way and let the miraculous happen.

 

Did you have to change your production style for this film?

Simple, sincere, direct and honest – without artifice or pretension – that’s the style ‘Last Flag Flying’ required during its making. These are standards Rick is very comfortable with and aspires to, and the positive results are obvious on-screen. Underlying everything is a sense of humor that is very entertaining. It begins in the clever writing and emanates through the sensitive, masterful performances of our trio of iconic actors – Bryan Cranston, Steve Carrell and Laurence Fishburne.

 

What kind of audience reactions have you been getting so far?

Excellent, enthusiastic responses. Preview audiences have given us a warm reception, especially veterans and active service members and their families. As you know, those who fought in Vietnam were never welcomed home in a proper manner, never accorded due honors or the thanks and recognition they so richly deserve. This film acknowledges their service and promotes mutual respect across generations. There are things actually happening in the real world right now that amazingly echo events we depict in this film in a visionary way – certainly in its central situation and in nearly the same words we’ve heard on recent news broadcasts – that could never have been predicted.

 

What are your hopes for the film?

We are hopeful that ‘Last Flag Flying’ provides an opportunity for real healing to take place in our nation. We hope that whatever rifts may exist – culturally, socially and geographically – we might through the telling of this story help to heal the isolation too often felt in military circles and civil society alike. We want to provide an opportunity for viewers to celebrate what makes this country worth fighting for. Ultimately, I believe that ‘Last Flag Flying’ has the potential to generate a much needed public conversation as well as catharsis for our national audience in these tumultuous times.

 

Thomas Lee Wright began his career as an executive at Paramount Pictures and went on make movies for the next three decades. He has directed documentaries for the Discovery Channel and for Human Rights Watch, among others, including one that tells the story of a ninety-day cross-country bike trip undertaken by an Iraq war veteran to honor his fallen friend. Wright published the first edition of the novel “Last Flag Flying” by legendary writer Darryl Ponicsan, which eventually attracted the attention of Oscar-nominated filmmaker Richard Linklater – an odyssey that has led to the finished movie opening soon in theaters across the country.

To purchase tickets to see ‘Last Flag Flying’ in theaters, please visit http://bit.ly/LFFEmail.

 

The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to sharing veterans’ stories and helping them receive the benefits they deserve. You can help make the difference in the life of a veteran by making a one-time or monthly pledge by clicking here.

Honoring All Of Our Heroes: National Day of the Deployed

Yesterday, October 26th, was the  National Day of the Deployed. A day to honor all of the brave men and women who have been deployed and are sacrificing, or have sacrificed, their lives to fight for our country. It’s also a day that acknowledges the families they are separated from. The day originated in 2006 after Shelle Michales Abrerle approached the governor of North Dakota to have a day that honored the deployed.

The US military has over 1.3 million men and women on active duty, with more than 450,000 of them stationed overseas, and nearly 200,000 troops are currently deployed around the world. Although October 26th is just one day that it is nationally recognized, these men and women should be remembered every day. Below are some ways to honor our troops that are currently on foreign soil defending our freedom:

  • Send or donate money to send a care package.
  • Display a yellow ribbon. Yellow ribbons are a remembrance of the men and women who are deployed.
  • Wear red on Friday:
    • RED is an acronym that stands for Remember Everyone Deployed. R.E.D. Friday was created to remind people of our heroes overseas and show that we are thinking of them.
  • Connect personally by reaching out to deployed troops’ you know.

In addition to helping the men and women that are deployed, their families are also affected greatly and oftentimes forgotten. Here are some ways to show your support to the families of the deployed. A little bit goes a long way:

  • Prepare a dinner.
  • Assist with minor inconveniences and household tasks.
  • Deliver groceries, baked goodies or a care package for the spouse or kids.
  • Offer to babysit.
  • Recognize their sacrifice either personally, through social media, email or any way you can think of.

rangers team are heated food on the fire and eat in the forest

As you continue your day, make a conscious effort to remember the brave men and women that are serving our country, and as a result have become a part of the 200,000 service members currently deployed. The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to honoring all of our heroes who have been willing to sacrifice everything for our country, and have experienced the hardships of a deployment. Nearly 90 percent of cash donations the Purple Heart Foundation receives provide funds for programs that help ALL veterans and their dependents. It is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.

More Than Just Games: How The Invictus Games Celebrate The World’s Heroes

The 2017 Invictus Games took place from September 23 through September 30 in Toronto, Canada. Now, some of you may be wondering, what are the Invictus Games? These games were established in 2014 in England by Prince Harry. A year prior to the development of the games, Prince Harry had the opportunity to visit the United States based Warrior Games (DoD). These games are a chance for wounded, injured, and ill military veterans and personnel to compete in adaptive sports. Adaptive sports, also known as parasports, are sports at a competitive level for participants with disabilities. They very closely follow the rules of the sports that an able-bodied athlete would participate in, but with modifications in rules and equipment to meet the needs of the competitor. Prince Harry was blown away by this idea and what these games represented, so he strove to create an international version.

 

This year, Canada played host to the third Invictus Games. The Inaugural Invictus games were held in 2014 in London, and the second Invictus Games were held in Orlando, Florida in 2016. In the short time since the Games’ development, it has expanded to attract 17 nations and over 550 competitors, all of which are wounded, ill, and injured servicemen and women.

 

These games are inspiring. These brave men and women have served and made sacrifices for their countries, resulting in life-altering injuries, physical and mental, and are forced to learn a new way to live their daily lives. But, they do not stop there. These men and women have found a new normal, and new ways to live so that they are not defined by these injuries. In addition to simply finding a new normal, they have learned to incorporate adaptive sports into their lives.  

Why are these games important for the veteran communities here in the United States, and also around the world? In addition to helping these men and women find a new normal, it helps to bring them a sense of belonging. They are not alone, and together they are able to overcome the day-to-day challenges as well as the lifelong battles they may face. They can share their various mental and physical recovery programs, and find comfort in knowing they are not the only one in this situation and dealing with this. These games help to shine a spotlight and give a face to our heroes, their sacrifices, and their ability to overcome.

The United States participated in the third Invictus Games, in twelve different events. Here is how they finished:

  • Gold Medal in Wheelchair Basketball
  • Silver Medal in the Swimming Mixed 4x50m Freestyle Relay
  • Silver Medal in Archery for the Team Open Compound
  • Silver Medal in Archery for the Team Open Recurve
  • Bronze Medal in the Athletics Mixed 4×100 Relay
  • Bronze Medal in Sitting Volleyball
  • Bronze Medal in Wheelchair Rugby.

Each day our veterans struggle with their transition back to their normal civilian lives. Opportunities like the Invictus Games offer incredible opportunities for our service members to join into new and supportive communities. But, that is simply not enough. We, at the Purple Heart Foundation are committed to honoring all of our heroes, and it is our goal to make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Help to support the programs that can help our veterans on a day-to-day basis to receive the support and benefits that they need and deserve by making a one-time or monthly pledge.

Strength from the Sea: Happy 242nd Birthday U.S. Navy

Today the U.S. Navy celebrates its 242nd birthday of defending the nation against all enemies.The force was founded on October 13, 1775, by the second Continental Congress during the American Revolutionary War. The force was disbanded shortly after the war, but  became permanent under the Naval Act of 1794. During George Washington’s presidential term, threats to American merchant shipping were being made by Barbary pirates. American sailors were seized and imprisoned in 1785 and then again in 1793. To secure both the release of these men and commercial access to the Mediterranean Sea, the United States agreed to pay tribute to the Barbary States. The Navy Act of 1794 authorized the construction of first six warships, including:

  • USS United States:
    • Launched on May 10, 1797
    • Fought and captured the frigate HMS Macedonian

USS United States

  • USS Constellation:
    • Launched  on September 7, 1797
    • Fought and captured the French frigate Insurgente. (First major victory by an American designed and built warship

USS Constellation

  • USS Constitution:
    • Launched on October 21, 1797
    • Most well known for her actions during the War of 1812 against Britain, when she captured numerous merchant ships and defeated four British warships: HMS Guerriere, HMS Java, HMS Cyane, and HMS Levant.
    • The oldest active commissioned warship afloat in the world (Boston, MA)

USS Constitution

  • USS Chesapeake:
    • Launched on December 2, 1799
    • Captured on June 1, 1813, by HMS Shannon

USS Chesapeake

  • USS Congress:
    • Launched on August 15, 1799
    • Performed services during the First Barbary War, War of 1812, and Second Barbary War

USS Congress

  • USS President:
    • Launched on April 10, 1800
    • Captured on January 14, 1815 by HMS Pomone and HMS Tenedos

USS President

Today, the United States is the world’s undisputed naval superpower, with the ability to engage and project power in two simultaneous limited wars along separate fronts. More than 400,000 sailors are serving all over the world, and  the U.S. Navy maintains a notable fleet with:

  • 288 battle force ships
  • 10 aircraft carriers
  • 9 amphibious assault ships
  • 22 cruisers
  • 62 destroyers
  • 17 frigates
  • 72 submarines
  • 3,700 aircraft

Navy Officer Salutes

The U.S. Navy has become the largest and strongest Navy in the world because of all the brave men and women that took the oath to serve this great country and follow the Sailor’s Creed. The Purple Heart Foundation wants to thank all who have served, and are serving for dedicating their lives to protecting our nation. We also want to wish you all a very Happy 242nd Birthday. We join the Navy in their celebration of a milestone birthday by remaining committed to assisting veterans in all aspects of their lives, including helping those who are looking for jobs after their military service has ended. You can show your support for these brave men and women who have sacrificed so much for our country by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure veterans continue to get the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.

Sailor’s Creed

I am a United States Sailor.

I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States of America and I will obey the orders of those appointed over me.

I represent the fighting spirit of the Navy and all who have gone before me to defend freedom and democracy around the world.

I proudly serve my country’s Navy combat team with Honor, Courage and Commitment.

I am committed to excellence and the fair treatment of all.

From Service For Country to Service For Life: How One Veteran Is Making A Difference

The Purple Heart Foundation had the opportunity to talk with Army veteran Nick Bare about his military experience, transition back to civilian life, and his recent commitment to helping the people and communities of Houston, TX that were devastated by Hurricane Harvey. Nick has made an incredible, and very successful, transition from a soldier to an entrepreneur. Currently, Nick is the owner of a sports supplement company, Bare Performance Nutrition, which is based just north of Austin, TX. Nick has been able to not only grow his business, but also develop an extremely large social media presence that supports him and what he is involved in.

As a Texas resident, Nick wanted to make a difference once the devastation of Hurricane Harvey set in. Inspired by his military experience and training he committed himself to doing a 150 Mile Ruck March to raise money for Houston. Through his vast social media presence and commitment to making a difference, Nick was able to raise around $9,000 for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Incredible.  

Can you provide us with a background on yourself?

I am originally from Palmyra, PA (a small town next to Hershey).  I went to college at the Indiana University of PA from 2009-2013 on an Army ROTC scholarship to study Nutrition.  When I was a junior in college I decided to start up Bare Performance Nutrition (sports supplement company) with a small loan.  I commissioned into the Army as an Infantry Officer in 2013, where I was first sent to Fort Benning, GA for Infantry Officer Basic Course, Ranger School and Airborne School.  My first duty assignment was Fort Hood, Texas where I was stationed from 2014-2017.  During my time in the Army, I was an Infantry Platoon Leader and spent 9 months in South Korea on a training rotation just south of the DMZ.  After transitioning out of the military in May 2017, I went full time entrepreneur with my business, Bare Performance Nutrition.  Our distribution facility is now in Round Rock, TX (just North of Austin) where we ship directly to consumer, wholesale and through Amazon Prime.  A large part of our business is social media driven through my own personal YouTube channel.  The videos I upload are fitness, military, entrepreneur and lifestyle focused.

When did you join the military?

I officially went active duty in May 2013 after commissioning, however, I received my Army ROTC scholarship during my senior year of High School (2009).

Why did you join?

Many of my family members were active duty Army and I saw the experience they had while the war was very kinetic in the Middle East.  I hoped for a similar experience, which is why I selected Infantry.  I also had plans to serve my country and only ever expected to do my 4-year contract but enjoyed every minute of it!

Could you provide some details on your time in the service? 

What branch did you serve in?

Army, Infantry, 1st Cavalry Division, Fort Hood

What were your roles in the service?

Infantry Platoon Leader for 2 years and then Assistant S3 (Operations Officer) until I transitioned out of active duty.

Were you deployed during your service? If so, when?

9 month training rotation to South Korea from Feb 2016-Oct 2016.

What was the most defining moment of your military experience?

My graduation from the US Army Ranger School was my most defining moment.  I spent 4.5 months in a 61 day course due to 2 recycles and a 6-week hold over during the best ranger competition.  It was a tough school where I lost over 30 pounds but learned A LOT throughout the process.

What does being a veteran mean to you?

I am proud of my time in the military, the people I have met, the experience it had created and the mentorship I gained.  It taught me a lot about leadership, especially working with non-commissioned officers in the Infantry.  I am extremely proud to live in the United States, be an American and of course live in TEXAS.

What would you like the public to know about the veteran community that you don’t see portrayed in the news?

The enlisted personnel and non-commissioned officers work harder than anyone else I have ever had the opportunity to learn from.  My team leaders, squad leaders and platoon sergeants held the standard to the highest and cared A LOT about their men.  It is something you don’t get to experience in the civilian sector.  These men aren’t working to make a million dollars, but because of a purpose they believe in.  We wouldn’t survive without the enlisted men and women of the United States.

While in the military you were required to complete ruck marches, and now as a veteran/civilian you recently completed a 150 Mile Ruck March to raise money for those affected by Hurricane Harvey. Can you tell us a little about how:

You came up with that idea?

One of my employees came up with the idea to do a ruck march from Austin to Houston.  I originally planned to do 25 miles but he brought up the idea to do 150 miles.  I posted it on social media immediately to hold myself accountable to that task.

Your experience?

It was one of the best experiences of my life.  It was truly challenging and painful but I believe it brought many people together.  The feedback I received to amazing and the people of Texas are great.  

Your challenges?

The only big challenge throughout was the pain I felt in my feet.  The longest I had ever ruck marched before was 26 miles (and that was tough).  I was well worth the pain though!

What was the public response/support you received?

It was amazing! The people of Texas stopped me the entire way asking if I needed food, water, money and even a ride.  I was very thankful for the support, not just for the ruck march, but for the cause.  The people of Texas really came together after Hurricane Harvey.

Do you foresee yourself utilizing that type of fundraising for other causes?

I would love to do something similar in the future, but with more people involved to make for a greater cause and response.

Nick’s story is both inspiring and unique; the difference he has made is unmeasurable. From serving this country, to helping people around the world achieve their fitness, nutrition, and lifestyle goals through his businesses, to fundraising through a Ruck March to help those whose lives were turned upside down by Hurricane Harvey, Nick continues to make a difference.

We, at the Purple Heart Foundation, will forever be grateful for Nick Bare, and all of the men and women who have served, and continuing serving and making a difference for this country. We are committed to honoring ALL of our heroes, and it is our goal to make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits that they deserve.

Gold Star Mother’s Day: Remember the Fallen and Their Loved Ones

This past Sunday, September 24th the country observed Gold Star Mother’s Day. The day is intended to recognize and honor those mothers who have lost a son or daughter in their service in the U.S. Armed Forces. In 1936, the 74th Congress declared that the last Sunday in September will be known as Gold Star Mother’s Day, and it is the duty of the President to request its observance. The name ‘Gold Star Mothers’ was derived from the custom of military families to put a service flag near their front window during World War I. The flag featured a star for each family member serving, living members were denoted in blue, and gold stars symbolized a family member who died in the line of duty.

Every mother that sends their child off to war has a fear their loved one will not return. Unfortunately for some that nightmare becomes reality, and they share a similar story to Candy Martin:

  • Candy Martin was in her home’s back bedroom one Sunday morning in October 2007 when her husband asked her to come out, his voice was quivering. He must have run over the dog, she thought, taking her time and trying to delay the inevitable bad news. When she finally came out it was to find two somber Army officers standing in her kitchen. “Don’t say it. Don’t say it. Don’t say it,” she begged them over and over again, hoping that if she didn’t hear the news it wouldn’t be true. Her son 1st Lt. Thomas Martin had been killed by small-arms fire in Iraq on Oct. 14, shortly after his 27th birthday. His fiancée, who was also in Iraq, flew medevac helicopters and heard about the incident on the radio. Although Army officials didn’t have to, they let her sit with Thomas in the morgue — knowing that helped Thomas’ mother a little. She was grateful someone who loved her son was with him that night.

This past Sunday, many events occurred across the country to honor fallen service members and their mothers. Fulfilling his duty, the United States President Donald Trump called on all Americans to display the nation’s flag and hold appropriate meetings to publicly express their love, sorrow, and reverence towards Gold Star Mothers and their families. Government buildings were also required to display the flag. This year on September 10th, the Miss America Pageant honored twelve mothers whose sons were killed while serving. The moms were put up and pampered at casinos, met Pentagon officials, and honored on stage at Boardwalk Hall before the nationally televised finale began.

There is nothing in this world that could bring a loved one back, but the Purple Heart Foundation is dedicated to helping the dependents of fallen servicemen, ALL veterans, and their families. Nearly 90% of cash donations the Purple Heart Foundation receive provides funds for programs that help the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship program, as well as other programs. You can show your appreciation to the brave men and women who give their lives for our freedom by donating here.

 

From the Battlefield to the Classroom: The Story of Dan Hansmeier

The Purple Heart Foundation had the opportunity to interview Dan Hansmeier, a Marine Corps Veteran. He provided us insight on his time and experience in the military as well as what civilian life has been like for him since becoming a veteran.

 

Can you provide us with a background on yourself?

My name is Daniel Hansmeier and I am 30 years old and am from rural Minnesota.

 

When did you join the military?

I joined the Marine Corps immediately after I graduated high school in June of 2006. I remember graduating on June 3rd and flying to San Diego, California on June 11th. I had a very short summer break before starting boot camp.

 

Why did you join?

I wanted to travel the world, meet new people and accomplish things that I never would have been able to do had I not joined. Importantly, the attacks on September 11th, 2001 really put a lot of drive in me to defend this country against something like that happening again; [and as it] turns out that is what I would do.

 

Could you provide some details on your time in the service? What branch did you serve in?

United States Marine Corps

 

What was your rank?

I was a Sergeant (E-5)

 

 

 

What were your roles in the service?

Reconnaissance Team Leader/ Recon Marine. Scout Sniper and US Army Airborne Ranger qualified.

 

Were you deployed during your service? If so, when?

I went on 4 deployments over the period of 8 years that I was active duty in the Marines. My first deployment was called a MEU (Marine Expeditionary Unit) which was a fleet of Navy ships that traveled the Indian and Pacific Oceans making stops at Hawaii, Singapore, Australia, Persian Gulf (Bahrain, Dubai, Kuwait) and East Africa. My second and third deployments were to Afghanistan in support of Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF) and my last deployment was another MEU stopping at a lot of the same countries as the first, this time including parts of Europe. Our purposes at these stops was either to train foreign militaries or to do training as a platoon for ex, High Altitude High Opening (HAHO) parachuting exercises in Djibouti. Each deployment was about 7 months long.

What is your favorite memory/story?

My first Afghanistan deployment was in 2010, the bloodiest year of the war and I remember every detail of it. My platoon was in gunfights nearly every day and we racked up almost 400 enemies KIA without a single person in my unit dying, although we did take serious casualties. We expended more ordinance than any other Marine unit in the country that year as well and at the time Lt. General James Mattis (the current Secretary of Defense under the Trump Administration) said that my unit was “the most lethal unit in Afghanistan right now”. Ironically he was quoted saying that on Halloween 2010.

 

What does being a veteran mean to you?

Being a veteran means that I hold myself to a high standard, the standard instilled in me throughout the arduous and attrition rated training and combat that I went through. It means that I don’t make excuses and that I seek realistic and thorough solutions to everything in my daily life that I encounter. Being a veteran means that society should hold me to a higher standard as well; there are incredibly weak people who love the victim society mentality, I am not that man, nor should veterans be thought of as that.

 

Are you involved in any veteran communities?

Not in a formal sense, no. However, I do stay in contact with nearly every person in my platoon that I went to Afghanistan with every day through an app on my phone. This is the most important veteran community to me; we keep each other in check.

 

What have you been doing since leaving the military?

I went straight to college. I like this question because it forces me to think, “what have I done lately?” and to not relish on my time in the Marines as if it were the only important time in my life. Well, I have been in college, I’m studying biology and will graduate Summa Cum Laude in May of next year and will pursue a career in health care. Every day is a win, because I have four limbs (thankfully), a sound mind and more grit than anyone I know.

 

Advice for those looking to join?

The military has a whole spectrum of specialties; you don’t have to do what I did, although I wouldn’t really be enthusiastic about doing something different. If you want to join, be ready to get humbled, be ready to lose, and be ready for defeat because those things are necessary events to be exposed to in order to learn how you will react in the worst of scenarios and if you have the ability to grow from them, if you don’t think you do then don’t bother joining. The military is a place that selects volunteers and places them in a job that is best fitting for them, it may take a couple of years in the military before one figures this out. You’ll know once you find what it is you are supposed to be doing because you will be good at it and give it your undivided attention because your learn that your life or someone else’s life probably depends on it.

 

Anything else you want to share?

I would do all 8 years again, I had a great time and was with incredible guys who really understood their roles as men and leaders amidst chaotic scenarios in training and in combat.

 

Dan’s journey both in and outside of the military is inspiring. He excelled as a Marine due to his strong work ethic coupled with his passion and dedication to our country. His success has only continued since becoming a veteran, making and reaching new goals every day.
There are not enough words to justify how grateful we, at the Purple Heart Foundation, are for Dan and all the other men and women who serve and served this country. We are committed to honoring all of our heroes, and it is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

POW/MIA Recognition Day: You Are Not Forgotten

Today, September 15th and every third Friday of September is POW/MIA Recognition Day, a day of remembrance and hope for the safe return of American Prisoners of War, and those still Missing In Action. The United States flag and POW/MIA flags are flown on this day and joint prayers are made for POWs and those that are Missing in Action. The focus is to ensure that America remembers its responsibility to stand behind those who serve our nation and do everything possible to account for those who do not return.


In 1979, Congress and President Jimmy Carter passed resolutions for the Remembrance Day after the families of the more than 2,500 Vietnam War POW/MIAs pushed for full accountability. During the first POW/MIA Recognition Day commemoration, a ceremony was held at the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C., while the 1st Tactical Squadron from Langley Air Force Base in Virginia flew the missing man formation. Most ceremonies since then have been held at the Pentagon, and many smaller observances occur across the nation and around the world on military installations.
The traditional POW/MIA flag was created before the Remembrance Day became official. The flag was created for the National League of Families of American Prisoners and Missing in Southeast Asia and officially recognized by the United States Congress in conjunction with the POW/MIA’s during the Vietnam War era.

In 1971, Mary Hoff wanted a flag made to remind people of POWs and the missing. She was one of the many waiting to see if her husband, Navy Lt. Cmdr. Michael Hoff, would ever return home after his plane had been shot down over Laos. World War II pilot Newt Heisley designed the POW/MIA flag, which was made in black and white to represent the sorrow, anxiety, and hope symbolized by the image of the gaunt man featured on it.  The image of the man is a silhouette of his son, Jeffery Heisley, who was medically discharged from the military. When designing the flag, Newt looked at his son’s gaunt features and imagined what life must be like for those captured and missing in action on foreign land.
For every POW/MIA recognition day since 1982, the flag has flown just below the American flag at the White House – the only other flag to ever do so. In 1998, Congress ordered it to also be displayed on Armed Forces Day, Memorial Day, Flag Day, Independence Day, and Veterans Day.


Below are the numbers of POW/MIA that have yet been found:

  • WWI: 7,470
  • WWII: 73,014
  • Korean War: 7,729
  • Vietnam War: 1,602
  • Cold War: 126
  • Afghanistan and Iraq Wars: 6

As you continue your day, make a conscious effort to remember the brave men and women that have served our country, and as a result have become a part of the 83,000 servicemen missing in action, or taken captive as prisoners of war.

The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to honoring all of our heroes who have been willing to sacrifice everything for our country, and have seen the hardships of war. Nearly 90 percent of cash donations the Purple Heart Foundation receives provide funds for programs that help ALL veterans and their dependents. It is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.

Post 9/11 Military: What Has Changed Since That Terrible Day?

As you can imagine, this country and our military has changed quite a bit since September 11, 2001. That terrible day shifted the United States of America’s dynamic, and day-to-day way of thinking. Our citizens, though horrified, scared, and heartbroken, were able to unite with a new and heightened sense of patriotism. Even more specifically than just our country and its citizens, our military’s dynamic shifted as well.

In the years that have followed September 11, 2001, many changes have been made to our country’s military. These changes come from all areas: budget, demographics, size, veteran benefits, etc.  

I am sure you are sitting there reading this and thinking to yourself, military enlistment and recruitment was the first and quickest change. In actuality, our military recruitment did not surge in the years immediately following September 11th. For example, though the Army was able to meet its recruitment goals in 2001 and the year following, by 2005 they fell short of their goals. Our Air Force did not meet their recruitment goals either. There was a post-attack surge of recruitment, but that quickly faded. Since more time has passed since that horrible attack on our country, the military and its enlistment has seen much more growth.

Though since 2001 many recruits have cited ‘patriotism’ as a main reason for joining, our country’s weakened economy actually played a strong role. Our military branches began meeting and, exceeding their recruitment goals and these recruits are actually made up of better-qualified and higher educated personnel. Why? The economy provided for less and less jobs for young people, and the military offered a steady job.  

The role of women in our military and war efforts have also shifted post-9/11. Previously banned from direct combat operations, they have since served in combat. Some have even been awarded various military medals for valor. It has been said that some “women are performing as well as their male peers” and that the military needs those women doing those jobs.

Another post 9/11 change was the updated GI Bill. This allowed for coverage on full tuition and necessary fees for all public universities and colleges for all those who have served at least 90 days of service since September 11, 2001. It has continued to expand and offer more and more benefits, especially under the new administration.

In the decade following that terrible day, our military spending surged 50%. Not only did the spending increase, but over 50 percent of Americans were in favor of increased spending following 9/11. The United States has spent, or taken on spending obligations, for greater than $3.6 trillions on the war efforts in Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and our Department of Homeland Security.

Since 9/11 our military has become much more battle-tested. Their ability to engage in missions and operate more logically and sufficiently has continued to develop through hands on experience and more extensive training. This has helped the U.S military to prove not only its adaptability, but develop its resilience against any new or potential conflicts.

Additionally, the U.S. Special Operations forces has actually grown, and continues to grow, by the tens of thousands. This is a great example of cooperation and how it has been able to grow and develop throughout our military services and branches. This force includes various specialized combat personnel and reconnaissance personnel from all branches.

Since September 11, 2001, our country’s veteran community has continued to grow. Each and every man and woman has sacrificed for this great country. The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to helping every single veteran. It is our mission to holistically enhance the quality of life of all veterans and their families, providing them with direct service and fostering an environment of camaraderie and goodwill among combat wounded veterans. You too can show your support for our heroes by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure our veterans continue to get the support and benefits they both need and deserve.

Legends on Two Fields: Remembering Athletes Who Answered the Call to Serve

Millions of kids grow up in the United States and have dreams of one day becoming a professional athlete. They spend countless hours and years working hard for this dream, and the odds of making it to the upper level of any sport are low. The competition is intense and the open spots are few, even for those athletes that excel in college sports. In a 2012 study, the NCAA found that the chances of going from college to pro were less than two percent for football, basketball, hockey, and soccer. Individuals such as Pat Tilman, Bob Kalsu, and Jack Lummus worked hard for their dreams, and against all odds made it to the NFL. While their talents showed their love for football, these men also had a passion to serve their country. These men gave up a promising career they worked nearly their entire lives to achieve to selflessly volunteer in our Armed Services, and ultimately sacrifice their lives for our country.

Pat Tilman, from Arizona State University was drafted in the seventh round of the 1998 NFL Draft by the Arizona Cardinals. As expected, Tilman was fulfilling a promising career and in four seasons, he recorded 238 tackles and three interceptions as a safety, and was named an All-Pro in 2000. In 2001 he was offered a three-year, $3.6 million contract from the Cardinals but turned it down to enlist in the U.S. Army to answer the nation’s call after the 9/11 attacks. Tilman was a part of the initial invasion of Operation Iraqi Freedom, and when he returned, he immediately attended Ranger school. Soon after graduating in 2003, he redeployed to Afghanistan.On April 22, 2004, he was killed in a friendly fire incident. He was awarded a Silver Star, Purple Heart, a posthumous promotion, and his number was retired both by the Cardinals and college team Arizona State.

Bob Kalsu graduated from Oklahoma University as an All-American and was drafted by the Buffalo Bills in 1968. Many say he had the potential for a Hall-of-Fame career. Kalsu also had a ROTC obligation, and enlisted in the U.S. Army as a second lieutenant after his rookie season in the NFL. Even though Kaslu had the opportunity to join the Reserves, he decided to go on active duty because he wanted to keep the promise he made when he joined ROTC to serve.  Joining the Army in midst of a war, he was deployed to Vietnam in 1969 as part of the 101st Airborne Division. One year later on July 21, 1970 Kalsu’s unit came under attack where he was shot and killed. He was awarded a Bronze Star, and Purple Heart.

 

Jack Lummus, was a two-sport athlete at Baylor University, and signed as free agent to the New York Giants. On December 7, 1941, the Giants were playing the Brooklyn Dodgers when Japanese airplanes attacked the American Naval Base at Pearl Harbor, a tragedy that would change the course of Lummus’s career. After the Giants faced the Chicago Bears in the championship game, Lummus enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve on January 30, 1942. Three years later he was deployed to the island of Iwo Jima where he would die as an American hero and earn the Medal of Honor for his actions. On March 8th, Lummus’s platoon went under attack where he received minor wounds from grenade shrapnel. However, that did not stop him from leading his platoon to destroy three enemy strongholds. Following this action, he stepped on a landmine and was mortally wounded. While being treated at the aid station, Lummus told his doctor “Well Doc, the New York Giants lost a mighty good end today.”

 

These men, among several others decided to forgo their dream of playing in the NFL and millions of dollars to serve. They all understood what it meant to fight for freedom, take pride in their duty, and ultimately gave their life for this country.
The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to honoring our heroes who made the ultimate sacrifice to defend our country. Nearly 90 percent of cash donations the Purple Heart Foundation receives provide funds for programs that help the National Service Officer Program, the Scholarship Program, as well as other programs. It is our goal to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform who defend our freedom. Show your support for them by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve by clicking here.