Henry Johnson: The Story of an Unsung Hero

As you know, February is recognized as Black History Month. This is an opportunity to reflect on all of the brave African-American men and women throughout our country’s history. As the Purple Heart Foundation is a veteran service organization, we wanted to reflect on African-American military service throughout history. Specifically one man, Henry Johnson. Henry Johnson may not be a familiar name, but he courageously served this country and was a true hero.

Henry Johnson was born in July of 1892 in North Carolina, later moving to New York. On June 5, 1917, Johnson enlisted in the United States Military. He has originally joined the all-black New York National Guard (369th Infantry Regiment). He later served as a United States Army sergeant in the First African American Unit of the U.S. Army that engaged in combat during the first world war.

Prior to serving as a sergeant, Johnson and the 369th Infantry joined the 185th Infantry Brigade in France. Exactly one year following Johnson’s enlistment, the 185th Infantry Brigade he was with was assigned to the 93rd Infantry Division. Due to apparent racism and disinterest of the white U.S. soldiers, those who had made up the 369th were “loaned” out to the French Army. As Johnson continued to serve, his bravery was more than apparent.

While serving on sentry duty for his company in the Argonne Forest. He ended up fighting off a large German raiding party which was attempting to break through the line. Despite suffering 21 wounds, Johnson was able to kill 4 German soldiers, wound many others, and rescue a wounded comrade. Word of his courageous actions traveled quickly. The French government awarded Johnson the Croix de Guerre, which at the time was France’s high award for bravery. Henry Johnson was the first American to have received it. Following those events and the entirety of his service, Johnson has been referred to as one of the five bravest Americans to have served in World War I by Theodore Roosevelt, Jr.

Johnson in 1919, wearing his French Croix de Guerre. Note, too, the two wound chevrons on his lower right sleeve.

It’s extremely unfortunate that racism and mistreatment of African Americans were so prevalent during the time of Henry Johnson’s incredible service. There was an arduous struggle to achieve U.S. military decorations for Johnson. Interest in obtaining proper recognition for Johnson grew greatly after the fact. In November of 1992, a monument was erected in his honor in Albany, New York. Johnson was awarded the Purple Heart in June of 1996. A few years later, in 2003, Johnson was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army’s second highest award for valor. On May 14th of 2015, the White House announced that Sergeant Johnson would receive the Medal of Honor. Former President Barack Obama presented this medal, stating “The least we can do is to say, ‘We know who you are, we know what you did for us. We are forever grateful.

That is absolutely true. We remember who you are, Henry Johnson. We recognize the heroism and bravery that you embodied as you served this country. And, we are forever grateful for your service. It is thanks to the dedication of brave men and women, such as Henry Johnson, that we are free. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. It is our goal to make the transformation from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for all of our men and women in uniform, Show your support by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

You Can Make a Difference In The New Year

Can you believe that we are almost one month into 2018 already? It may be a new year, but unfortunately as each new day passes our veterans continue to struggle with the same things. We expect the men and women who are willing to give everything for our country to return to a normal day-to-day life like nothing has changed for them. We send them into lengthy periods of training to prepare each of them to play a role in protecting our freedom. Training them and teaching them new ways of living. After boot camp, specialty schools, and years of service, these brave men and women then embark on a new journey into civilian life with no “how-to” guide.

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Imagine, every single day is structured and full of orders, down to the minute. You are told what to do and when to do it. You know the plan for each day and are expected to carry it out. Not only that, you have been trained to act, speak, and think in a specific manner. What happens when you are thrown back into a civilian life? A life that is no longer planned out for you. A way of life that you have been trained to unlearn. You have no experience with this, or if you do, it is no longer at the forefront of your thinking. Transitioning back to a “normal” civilian life is more difficult than one would imagine. You are suddenly faced with new challenges; medical, emotional, financial and many more Resources are not only limited, but they are difficult to understand and utilize.

Who are they supposed to turn to?

In combat, our military personnel count on their comrades to have their backs. When they return home and are faced with new challenges, the Purple Heart Foundation is here to offer a wide range of support and advocacy. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, our efforts support programs that help all veterans recover and prosper. We have made it a priority to engage in research and assistance to combat the “unseen” wounds that our veterans face, whether that is Post Traumatic Stress, Traumatic Brain Injury, Suicide, or sexual abuse. Just because there is not an injury that visible, does not mean they are not suffering.

“In war, there are no unwounded soldiers” – Jose Narosky.

So, how exactly does the Purple Heart Foundation help all of our veterans recover and prosper? Our National Service Officer program assists by providing counsel, support, and advocacy. This program essentially exists to inform veterans about education opportunities, scholarships, disability compensation, employment training, hospitalization and rehabilitation benefits and pensions. This program helps our veterans to navigate through some of the bureaucracy and red tape that they, unfortunately, come to face when trying to process their claims receive their benefits. It is extremely personalized, each veteran is paired with a Service Officer who provides professional representation and will work and fight for the veteran’s best interests. Additionally, there is a full-time attorney here to represent and present veterans’ claims before the court. All of this is completely free for the brave men and women who served this country. It does not stop there. There is also the Military Order of the Purple Heart Scholarship Program which has been designed to provide financial support to Purple Heart Recipients and their families. This scholarship can assist in covering the costs that go hand in hand with higher education; tuition, books, room, and board, etc.

Soldier: Going Back to School

Now, this almost sounds too good to be true. But through all of the donations made to the Purple Heart Foundation, last year alone we helped over 19,000 veterans secure over $210 million in VA benefits. Additionally, during 2017 the MOPH Scholarship Committee awarded around $200,000 through a total of 90 scholarship checks.

Yes, we are extremely proud to have helped touch that many veterans’ lives with your contributions and support, but there is so much more we can do together. There are over 21.8 million veterans in the United States.

21.8 Million

Let that sink in. Each and every one of those 21.8 million veterans put this country and our freedoms before themselves, and each and everyone deserves our help and support. Together, we can help our veterans make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one. Each dollar donated can make a difference in the lives of the men and women who served our country. Show your support by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits that they deserve.

George Washington: “The Road to Glory in A Patriot Army and A Free Country Is Thus Open to All”

Following the start of the New Year, back in 1789, America held its first presidential election. Utilizing the same Electoral College system that we use today, George Washington was named our first president. Now, before George Washington became president he demonstrated his capabilities through a vast array of achievements.

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George Washington’s military experience saw its beginning during the French and Indian war. His determination and great valor during the Battle of Monongahela won him the name, “Hero of Monongahela”; but, that was just the beginning. Washington’s previous military and leadership experience made him the clear choice to lead the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. He was commissioned as the General and Commander-in-Chief as well. Washington led the Continental Army throughout the revolutionary war, though they faced tough battles and even lost some, he never gave in. His leadership led to defeat the British Army at the Battle of Yorktown. This was the last major land battle of the American Revolutionary War, which in turn forced the British to negotiation for an end to the conflict.

In addition to George Washington’s incredible military accomplishments, his unwavering leadership is what brought him to become our first president. A great example of Washington’s leadership was his creation of three new military badges, two Badges of Distinction and the badge of Military Merit. He wanted to celebrate and honor the service of his common soldiers. Previously only those of higher ranking or class could be honored. Washington believed that “the road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all,” so he developed these new medals in order to honor his men.

The Badge of Military Merit. Washington insisted on praising the ambitions and strong actions he saw in his soldiers. His specific orders regarding this medal explained that “whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding.” There are only three individuals known to have been awarded the Badge of Military Merit.  

Now, Washington did more than just honor those three men and open the door for regular soldiers to be honored with the creation of that medal. Without knowing, he created the precedence for the establishment of the Purple Heart Medal. Close to one hundred and fifty years later, the Army adopted the medal with the help of General Douglas MacArthur. On the two hundredth anniversary of George Washington’s birth, the Purple Heart was reborn.

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Thousands of brave servicemen and women have been awarded a Purple Heart since its rebirth. They, along with their fellow service members are heroes. Without their dedication to this country, we would be unable to have our day-to-day freedoms. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. 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 by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

America’s Greatest Battle: The Battle of the Bulge

This is the time of year that most people look forward to: the treats, celebrations, family time, etc. Each person has obligations or events that come up that distract from the celebrations. Let’s take a look back: what was going on at this time back during World War II? In 1944 after the Allies had freed France and defeated Germany at Normandy, there was a widespread thought that World War II was nearing its end in Europe. Though it seemed as though that was the direction the war was going in, Adolf Hitler would not see it that way.

On December 16th of 1944, Hitler attempted to split the Allied Armies in Northwest Europe. This consisted of a surprise blitzkrieg attack through the Ardennes to Antwerp in Belgium, where American troops were stationed. This attack was Germany’s attempt to drive the Allies off of mainland Europe. Hitler wanted to hold nothing back, sending over a quarter of a million troops and about 1,000 tanks to split through the US (Allies) frontline. This battle became known as the Battle of the Bulge.

The American troops who were guarding this area were far less experienced than the men who were conducting this attack on them, and they were caught off guard and were unprepared. Additionally, there were many English speaking German soldiers, who acted as spies.Their job was to act, dress, and talk like the American soldiers in order to add to the confusion and chaos. Nonetheless, the American soldiers held their ground.

It was many small fights, and the persistence of the American troops, that ultimately led to their victory. One of the most famous of these small fights took place at Bastonge, Belgium. The 101st Airborne Division and the 10th Armored division, led by US General Anthony McAulifee were able to hold out long enough until more US troops were able to get there. Lieutenant General George S. Patton and the Third Army were able to successfully relieve Bastonge. This ultimately lead to the neutralization of the German attack, and begun a counteroffensive.

Following the victory, Winston Churchill stated, “This is undoubtedly the greatest American battle of the war” and that the Battle of the Bulge would “be regarded as an ever-famous American victory”.

The Battle of the Bulge was the last major German offensive campaign fought on the Western Front during World War II. It was also the largest battle, and lasted exactly one month. The Battle of the Bulge is often considered the greatest battle in American military history, despite it being the costliest battle ever fought by the U.S. Army, with over 100,000 casualties.

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While the rest of the world was celebrating the holiday season, and welcoming the new year, our country’s brave soldiers were fighting the greatest battle they have ever seen. Without the commitment resilience that those serving our country embody, we would be unable to have our day to day freedoms, and we would be unable to celebrate this time of year. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. 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 by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

No More Silent Nights: Combating Veteran Suicide during the Holidays

The holiday season is in full swing. With reminders of hope, love, and friendship, it can be hard to spot that this season can also be filled with sadness. For our veterans, the holiday season can be difficult. Whether it be being away from families on deployment, or not having families to come home to, veterans all across our country battle with difficult thoughts, including suicide.

According to a study conducted in 2013, 30 in 100,000 service members and veterans were more likely to commit suicide versus 14 in 100,000 civilians during the holiday season. These statistics are sobering. Christopher Cadeau, a veteran and Arizona State University student, has a message that could help everyone to start the discussion on veteran suicide: “Just get out there and help someone. …  As long as you’re helping someone, you’re on the right track.”

Cadeau’s words do ring true. While it may be difficult to squeeze in time in your schedule this holiday season to help someone in need, something as quick as a phone call or text message saying that you’re thinking of a person in need can make a difference. Some other ways you can help during the holiday season include:

  • Adopting a Veteran-you can check with local VA homes to see if there are any veterans that do not have family nearby and take them in to celebrate the holidays with your loved ones.
  • Volunteer with veterans organizations, local schools, and other groups to hold events to bring together veterans to make them feel like they are part of something.
  • Finding transportation for a veteran for their appointments or getting them help with housing could help ease troubled thoughts during this season.

The main thing that you can do during this season is letting a veteran know that you care. Whether it be by volunteering to help them with something around the house or just having a quick phone conversation to hear about their day, connecting with a service member who is feeling suicidal can help make the difference.

For resources about how to handle Post-Traumatic Stress that could be contributing to suicidal thoughts, please click here. If you or someone you know is battling suicidal thoughts this holiday season, know that you are not alone. The National Suicide Prevention Hotline is also a resource. Their staff works 24/7 to help those who are struggling with suicidal thoughts. You or your loved one can call 1-800-273-8255 and press option 1 to speak with someone.

The holidays can be hard for our active-duty military and veterans, but we can help ease the struggles that they face. The men and women who keep our country and freedoms protected deserve that, and deserve our help and support. The Purple Heart Foundation is committed to helping every single man and woman who has served our country. It is our mission to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one. You can show your support for these brave men and women by making a one-time or monthly pledge to ensure that ALL of our veterans are able to get the support that they need and deserve.

Always Ready, Always There: Happy Birthday, United States National Guard

December 13th marked the 381st birthday of our United States National Guard. Since 1636, they have been the reserve force of our nation’s military. Originally, the militia forces of the United States started off in what is now present-day Salem Massachusetts in September 1565. From there the militia continued to be a staple of American life once English Settlers made the journey to the New World. From then on to the early 1900s, there was only a small Army and state militias. It wasn’t until the passage of the Dick Act in 1903 that the first reserve force was created.

According to the Dick Act, states were required to have their militias split into two sections: one being the “National Guard” as the organized militia and the “Reserve Militia” for the others. World War II brought about the National Defense Act of 1916, which required the term “National Guard” to be used for state militias.

Spc. Jason Curtis, Charlie Company, 1st Battalion, 151st Infantry Regiment, pulls security while leaders of a medical civil action project searched for a suitable site in Parun, Afghanistan June 28.

Currently, the National Guard serves as the first line of defense here in America, with each of the 50 states, three territories, and the District of Columbia each having their own state National Guard. Those who are members of the National Guard are required to adhere to the same standards as their counterparts in Active Duty and the respective branches’ Reserves. Reservists and Guardsmen can have careers concurrent with their military service and serve on a part-time basis. Only the Air Force and Army can have National Guard components and  Reservists are part of all branches of the military.

While most news about the National Guard comes out when there is a natural disaster or other crisis, it is no less important than the other parts of our nation’s military. They train alongside our active-duty military and serve our country alongside them. Some facts you may not know about the National Guard include:

  • American Samoa is the only US territory to not have a National Guard unit.
  • During the American Revolution, National Guard units were called Minutemen due to being able to respond quickly.
  • The National Guard has the second highest membership of all the branches, with the US Army having the most members, including enlisted, officers, and the Reserves.
  • The 54th Massachusetts Volunteers was formed by the National Guard and is credited as one of the first all African-American units in US military history. The unit is still active today and William Harvey Carney was the part of the unit and the first African-American to receive a Medal of Honor.

Some prominent Americans served our country in the National Guard. They include:

  • Presidents Harry S. Truman and George W. Bush. They were part of the National Guard in its current structure.
  • Actor Tom Selleck. He joined the California National Guard in 1967 after receiving Vietnam draft orders. He served in the 160th infantry regiment until 1973.
  • John Amos. Before being on “The Mary Tyler Moore Show” and “Good Times,” Amos was a part of the 50th Armored division in the New Jersey National Guard, as well as an honorary Master Chief of the US Coast Guard.

While the National Guard may not be as prominent as the major branches of the military, they are an integral part of keeping our country safe. The men and women of the National Guard drop whatever they are doing when duty calls and we salute them for their service to our great nation. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. 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 by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

Seventy-Six Years Later: A Day That Lives in Infamy

At 7:48 in the morning on December 7th, 1941, The United States naval base at Pearl Harbor was surprise attacked by the Imperial Japanese Navy Air Service. This attack was what ultimately led to the United States’ entry into World War II.

Imagine the chaos that occurred during that early morning attack seventy-six years ago. 353 Imperial Japanese aircrafts attacked our naval base. Those aircrafts ranged from fighters, level, and dive bombers as well as torpedo bombers. These attacks were intended to act as a preventive action. Japan hoped to keep the United States’ Pacific Fleet from interfering with the military actions they had planned in Southeast Asia against various overseas territories of the United Kingdom, United States, and the Netherlands.

Through the two waves of attacks, the destruction of the United States Navy was significant. All eight of the U.S. Navy battleships were damaged and four were sunk. Three cruisers, three destroyers, a minelayer, and an anti-aircraft training ship were either damaged or sunk. There were 188 U.S. aircrafts destroyed and over three hundred damaged. Dry docks and airfields were also destroyed. But, the more terrible losses of all were the 1,178 Americans left injured and the 2,403 that were killed. Thankfully our Navy was able to rebound quicker than expected, as the attack has left the base’s more significant and important onshore facilities unscathed.

This devastating attack was a complete and utter shock to our country and our people, as it came without any explicit warning and without a declaration of war from Japan, and Franklin D. Roosevelt did not hesitate to respond to what he called “a date which will live in infamy”. The next day FDR led the United States in declaring war on Japan and proceeded to declare war on both Germany and Italy within a few days.

FDR declared “No matter how long it may take us to overcome this premeditated invasion, the American people in their righteous might will win through to absolute victory. I believe I interpret the will of the Congress and of the people when I assert that we will not only defend ourselves to the uttermost, but will make very certain that this form of treachery shall never endanger us again.”

In the aftermath of the attack, the heroic servicemen who had distinguished themselves during the combat that took place at Pearl Harbor were awarded the following:

 

  • 15 Medals of Honor,
  • 51 Navy Crosses,
  • 53 Silver Stars,
  • 4 Navy and Marine Corps Medal,
  • 1 Distinguished Flying Cross,
  • 4 Distinguished Service Crosses,
  • 1 Distinguished Service Medal
  • 3 Bronze Star Medals

Much later, the United States Congress actually authorized a special military award, the Pearl Harbor Commemorative Medal, for all of our military veterans of the attack.

The attack on Pearl Harbor was a devastating day in our country’s history. It led us to enter into another World War, resulting in the loss of thousands of brave servicemembers. On this melancholy 76th anniversary, and every day we remember the extreme sacrifices that the courageous men and women who fight for our country make. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation, we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. 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 by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

‘Tis The Season: Remember Our Heroes This Holiday Season

The holidays are a time to spend building snowmen, drinking hot cocoa, making family favorites, and enjoying quality time surrounded by family and friends. All around the country, different traditions make up our holiday season. Maybe it’s a family hanging ornaments on their Christmas tree, or lighting the first candle on a menorah for Hanukkah. There are funky Christmas sweaters, cookie or gift exchanges, and children waiting in line to sit on Santa’s lap. No matter what traditions you keep, the holiday season is a time to be grateful and cherish all of your loved ones. It should also be a time to remember and and be thankful for the men and women who have served this country to ensure that you are free and safe to celebrate.

While you celebrate with your families, there are men and women fighting for our country, far away from their loved ones. Those brave men and women who return home deserve the support that we have the potential to provide them with. Not only do they need and deserve our support, but their families do as well. It may only be one member of a family who has served our country, but the transition back home has an affect on everyone.

How can you help? There are many, many different ways to get involved and help show your love and support for our veterans and their families this holiday season. Here are a few examples:

  • Send a care package
    • You can send packages to current military members, veterans, and caregivers
  • Send a letter
    • Handwritten letters of gratitude go a long way to make someone feel loved and appreciated. It also can serves as a way to connect them back to civilian life
  • Donate frequent flier miles
    • This can help family members be close during the hospitalization of combat injured (or ill) veterans if they don’t have the means to do so
  • Volunteer to place wreaths on the graves of servicemen and women
    • There are over 1,200 locations around the country where you can participate in this. You can find some opportunities here.
  • Visit patients in a local VA hospital. You can locate one here.
  • Support military families
    • Offer to bring a home cooked meal, offer to babysit if that is an option, a simple thank you can mean so much

Without our veterans and current service members bravery and dedication to this country we may not be able to enjoy our holiday traditions. The Purple Heart Foundation would like to wish all of our veterans and their families a happy and safe holiday season.

 

We understand and are unbelievably grateful for the brave men and women who serve this country. They have done their part and now we need to do ours. Here at the Purple Heart Foundation we are committed to honoring all of our heroes. 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 and their families. Show your support this holiday season by making a one-time or monthly pledge to make sure they continue to receive the support and benefits they deserve.

Honoring an All American Veteran: Sergeant First Class (Ret.) Michael Foley

The Purple Heart Foundation had the opportunity to interview SFC Michael Foley, a recently retired Army Veteran. He provided us insight on how his 17 years in the military made him who he is today.

1. When and why did you join the U.S. Army?

I joined the Army on August 16, 2000. There are a few reasons that I decided to join the Army. First, I come from a very small town where jobs were pretty much limited to working in factories. Another reason was that I wanted to prove to my now wife’s parents that I was good enough to marry her. In addition, my grandfather was in the Army and served in WWII.

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2. How many tours have you been a part of and what positions did you hold during those deployments?

I have been on four tours; twice to Afghanistan and twice to Iraq. During my first two deployments, I was an Airborne Infantry Team Leader. On my last two deployments, I was a Platoon Sergeant for both a Rifle Infantry Platoon and an Anti-Tank Platoon.

3. What were your expectations prior to deployment and how did they change afterward?

I really had no clue what to expect for my first deployment. It had been so long since our country was at war and now the War on Terror was a different type of war than we had ever fought before. I just remember watching September 11 happen on TV that day and we were the unit tasked with the Global Reaction Force for the military. This means that you stay on a 2-hour recall and could be wheels up, on a bird within 18 hours. I guess I could say at first it was total excitement. I was going to go get the bad guys that hurt so many. You hit the ground wanting to win the war yourself, however, once you’re there and have been in the middle of a two-way firefight, you look at everything a bit different. I guess the best way to put it is that the guy that is beside you fighting with you is more important than anything else in the world while you are there. To lose just one is a lot of the time too much for most.

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“Callsign “Black Magic” at the cross sabers in Baghdad.  HHC 3BCT 2009.”

4. Do you have any stories you feel comfortable sharing? Maybe the most memorable tour? Or the one that taught you the most about yourself, and being in the Army?

I guess one of the bigger highlights of my career was that I was apart of the first combat jump that the 82nd Airborne Division had done since Operation Just Cause in Panama. Only 73 Paratroopers got chosen to be apart of this historic operation. Somehow I was lucky enough to get a slot. At the time I was in B Co 3-504 PIR. Our company along with Navy SEALS and 2nd Ranger BN jumped in to capture the third most wanted guy in Afghanistan. What made this whole experience better was that it was one day after my 21st birthday. It was not until the last few years that this jump was declassified and we were allowed to talk about this jump due to the high-value targets (HVTs) involved.

5. What are the biggest shifts you have seen in the U.S. Army from serving both prior and after 9/11?

Prior to 9/11,  we used to go out in the field for a week or two at a time just working on small unit training.  For example, we would work on basic infantry battle drills by ourselves with no other units around.  After 9/11 and a few deployments.  We then starting training similar to a base mentality.  We trained as if we were working from a base rather than being out in the field working in isolation.  The training changed to more “hearts and minds” and trying to win the people over, rather than trying to win the war.  The training is now more focused on equal opportunity and political correctness than on warfighting.

6. How would you describe your life prior, during, and after the Army?

Prior to joining the Army, I was in high school and working at a furniture factory third shift. It was just a normal, mundane, day to day experience. My life during the Army was high paced and at times high stress. There was a lot of short notice with some of the positions that I held and many late nights. I have only been separated for about 15 days. So far, I am enjoying the time with my family and being able to relax. I plan to start school in January.

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7. What does it mean to you to be a veteran?

To be a veteran to me means a lot but, it’s not like I am going out to buy a hat or put stuff all over my car to show everyone that I was in the war. It’s more of a self-pride that I am one of the very few that was willing to stand up and defend what now most in our country are taking for granted. I have had the honor to see great men do extraordinary things. I have also seen those same heroes break because of a loss of a brother. I guess to be a veteran to me is that I will never be alone even if we are few we are the strongest.

8. If there is one thing you could tell someone that is beginning their journey in the Army what would that be?

I guess the best thing is to realize is that you have not earned anything. Everything is earned in the military. Many of the people coming into the Army these days think that everything should be given to them. Work hard and show respect and that will get you a long way.

SFC Michael Foley has dedicated his career and life to defend this country and millions of Americans he will never know. Though he would not be one to accept many thank yous, it is important to understand the dedication of our heroes just like him. Men and women, like Michael Foley, that have dedicated their lives make our day to day lives possible. We can never express enough gratitude to Michael Foley and his fellow service members to show how much we appreciate their sacrifice. The Purple Heart Foundation has various programs developed to help support not only our veterans but their spouses, children, families as well. We are committed to assisting ALL of our veterans. It is our mission to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one. You can show your support for our heroes and their families and continue to grow and support the programs that assist them in making a one-time or monthly donation.

Once an Engineer, Always An Engineer: Military To Civilian Life

In honor of Veterans Day, the Purple Heart Foundation wanted to make it a point to share some unique stories and points of view from some of our Veterans. We had the chance to interview Alden Smith Bradstock, III. Mr. Bradstock, or Smitty, is originally from Baltimore, Maryland. He graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point in 1977 and then went on to receive a Master of Engineering degree from the University of South Carolina.

Smitty entered West Point in 1973 and played lacrosse. In fact, the NCAA had allowed college freshmen to play on a Division 1 Varsity lacrosse team beginning in 1972, making him one of the earliest college freshmen to start on a Division 1 lacrosse team. When Smitty graduated from West Point in 1977, he was commissioned as an officer in the Army.

Smitty is also a published author. He wrote the book entitled, His Destiny, An American Flier. This book is all about American military aviation, ground combat and politics during World War I. It speaks measures to the devotion to duty and the various hardships of military service.

Smitty’s story is very unique, especially in regards to life and career path after serving. He has been able to stay involved in the military and veteran community very heavily, while also pursuing an extremely successful career in the private sector. We had the chance to speak with him about why he decided to join the Army, how that has affected his life, and what it means to him to be a veteran.

1. What made you want to join the US Army?

I had witnessed the Vietnam War on television as a young man and decided I wanted to serve and hopefully, make a difference.  Having grown up and visited the Naval Academy while in high school, I was intrigued by the military academies and wanted an opportunity to get a good college education in the sciences.  The service academies seemed to offer an excellent education with leadership training that would best fulfill my dream of serving the country.

2. Can you provide some details on your time in the service?

a. What branch?  

I entered the Army as a Field Artillery officer and obtained a secondary specialty as a Facilities and Construction Contract Management Engineer.

b. What was your rank?  

I left the service in 1988 as a Major.

c. Deployments?

I served in the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, NC, the 59th Ordnance Brigade as a Commander of an artillery unit in Germany during the Cold War, and as a facilities engineer at Fort Jackson, SC.  My service with the 82nd put me in three deployment situations.  We were called out during an uprising in Zaire, Africa in 1978, to support the Special Forces when the Iranians held American civilians hostage in Tehran, and when the rescue mission was ordered by President Carter to retrieve the hostages.

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German and American soldiers working together in “Interoperability” during an operational test the forests of central Germany

3. What was your most defining moment in the military?

I was promoted 1 year early to the rank of Major in 1986, one of 43 out of 3,500 Army Captains eligible for early promotion.  The situation taught me many things.  At first, I felt like I was on top of the world, I could do nothing wrong.  That helped me to realize that one’s ego can get out of hand.  I had witnessed leaders who would not listen to subordinates.  I had also had the pleasure of working with leaders who were well grounded, confident and calm under pressure.  These thoughts brought me to understand that I was promoted early for who I was, not what my ego made me think I should be.  I should be the same person as I was before the promotion.  It was a defining moment in my professional life.

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Smitty receiving the German “Ehrenkreuz der Bundeswehr in Bronze” or the Honor Cross of the German Military in 1986 from the Consul General of Germany to the United States with the commanding general of Fort Jackson, South Carolina in attendance

4. What is your favorite memory/story?  

I have many, many fond memories of my service in the military.  So, I’d have to say my time in the Army is one big favorite memory.  I have many stories of attending Airborne and Ranger schools; jumping out of airplanes (and jet aircraft); moving military equipment and soldiers by helicopters called, Airmobile; setting up and firing howitzers into multiple and very distant target areas; getting called out for deployment into possible combat operations; firing a Lance missile at a test range from the island of Crete; leading soldiers of various units in multiple locations in the United States and Germany, serving with the German military; and training at various military and civilian schools I had attended.  But, the best of it all was working with dedicated and very capable professionals, service personnel who defended our country under all circumstances and with great burdens placed upon them and their family members.  The greatest contribution one can give is putting one’s life and limbs on the line so that other Americans can live safe and secure.  All of our military service personnel do that 24/7, 365 days every year.  It is a memory that we should all burn in our minds and never forget.

5. I am aware that you were wounded while in the service, could you please provide more information?

I was injured numerous times while on active duty, which resulted in me being declared permanently disabled when I left the service in 1988.

a. Where and when did this happen?  

I was first injured at West Point during my senior year, which resulted in me having surgery.  The injury-plagued me throughout my military career on Airborne jumps, military maneuvers, and other related training activities.  I underwent many procedures and physical therapies as I re-injured myself over the years.

b. How were you wounded/injured?  

Recurring injuries to my knee.

c. How has that injury affected you?

Today, 41 years after the first injury, I consider myself very lucky to be able to walk without much pain.  However, I have constant recurring injuries that take weeks to heal.  Like all people with disabilities, I’ve learned to be careful, watch for signs of further injury, and deal with injuries when they occur.  As the orthopedic surgeon told me a few years ago, the pain will tell me when I need to replace the joint.

6. What does being a Veteran and having served your country mean to you?  

Many Americans had great disdain for military service personnel when I was growing up.  I’m sure many people have heard stories of how poorly military members were treated by civilians during the Vietnam era.  Those stories are true, as I watched them play out every evening on the national news on TV.  To see how America has positively responded to our service personnel in the last 20 to 30 years is a true testament to the resolve and respect Americans have for one another, and particularly for those that have and continue to protect our way of life.  Experiencing a handshake, pat on the back, or thank you for my service and the service of others sometimes brings me to the tears of great satisfaction.  The transformation from the 1960’s and 70’s to today is something that few people know, but everyone should recognize and be extremely proud of it.

7. What have you been doing since leaving the military?

The military taught me many things such as the importance of hard work, mutual respect, devotion to important causes, and above all, how integrity plays such a vital role in our daily lives.  I see tremendous parallels in civilian life to military service and try to emulate those ideals in whatever I do.  As I was while in my military career, I have been very busy throughout my civilian career.  I bought into an engineering company in 1990, formed other companies, and worked hard to make sure those companies provided excellent service to our customers.  I’ve worked in those few companies since leaving the military.  And, as in the military, it is very rewarding to work with dedicated and devoted people in all aspects of my daily life.

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Smitty today at his home in Maryland

8. Can you talk about the organization you work for, Veteran Design & Construction, Inc What does your organization do?

We have a very special and unique company.  While many companies design or build buildings, we are licensed and insured to do both with our “in-house” personnel.  So, we design and/or construct high-density residential, commercial, industrial, and institutional buildings and their infrastructures.  Part of our company has registered professional engineers on staff who design and manage the design of our projects.  The other part of the company includes constructors who plan and execute the construction of facilities.  As a Service Disabled Veteran Owned Small Business, we can bid on projects throughout the United States that are restricted to that category of businesses.  To keep things as simple as possible, we try to stay on the Eastern seaboard.  As we have all been doing this for a long time, I am proud to say our folks are very good at what they do.

a. How did you get involved?  

I received Bachelor of Science and Master of Engineering degrees in mechanical engineering while I was in the military.  My education and secondary specialty in the Army, as a Facilities and Construction Contract Management Engineer, prepared me for what I do today.  So, I have a lot to thank the Army for.  I joined a private engineering company when I returned to Maryland after leaving the service.  I stayed with the company as its Chairman for 26 years.  During that time, I had formed a number of companies with my partners.  One of them dovetailed into the present company that I now own.

b. Is your organization active in the veteran community?

Our business is somewhat specialized, but we look to hire Veterans and attend Veteran functions as much as possible.  We also work with the Baltimore Station, a non-profit organization devoted to helping Veterans with afflictions such as personal difficulties and Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome.  It’s interesting, but there seems to be an unspoken separation between the Veteran and civilian communities.  We attend various functions together and civilian companies work for Federal contracting officers.  But the two communities don’t naturally interact with one another very often.  We can definitely learn from one another, but the synergies are not quite there.

9. Anything else you would like to share?

I appreciate the efforts of your organization to bring the stories of Veterans to the public.

10. What is something you wish that the public knew about the veteran community?

While Americans appreciate military personnel today more than ever before, civilians do not have an in-depth understanding of the many trials and tribulations service personnel and their family members have to endure.  Military service requires all personnel to be prepared to deploy on a moment’s notice.  Family members including, spouses and children are expected to deal with deployments and the hardships that come with them.  During the Gulf and Afghan wars, some service members deployed for extended duty in combat zones 4 to 5 different times.  The stress and strain of those instances place unbelievable pressure on loved ones.  We just cannot do enough to help support those that must deal with these difficulties.  And, they are doing it voluntarily to protect us every day.  

Smitty was able to transition his military career into an extremely successful engineering career. It was through all of his training and experience in the United States Army that prepared him for what he has been doing since leaving the service. Not only has he been successful, he has continued to help other disabled veterans, just like himself, in both the workforce and through various charitable events and organizations. Though his service in the US Army and to our country may have technically ended when he left the service in 1988, he has not stopped making a difference.

Smitty raised an extremely important point during his interview in regards to our Military members, their families, and the difficulties that they are both forced to face. Though it is the service member who has bravely volunteered to protect this country at all costs, their families are significantly impacted as well. And, as hard as it is on them, they all volunteer their services. They need just as much support as our military members and veterans. The Purple Heart Foundation has various programs developed to help support not only our veterans but their spouses, children, families as well. We are committed to helping every single man and woman who has served our country. It is our mission to help make the transition from the battlefield to the home front a smooth one for our veterans and their families. You can show your support for our heroes and their families and continue to grow and support the programs that assist them in making a one-time or monthly donation.