The long road to recognition: Earl Meyer and the Battle for a Purple Heart

 25. 04. 2024      Category: Defense & Security

After a lengthy 73 years, Earl Meyer, a 96-year-old Korean War veteran from St. Peter, Minnesota, will finally receive the Purple Heart medal, an honor awarded to U.S. military personnel wounded or killed in combat. This recognition comes after a persistent campaign led by his family and supported by legal and political advocates.

Video: 96 years old Korean Army veteran sues Army for Purple Heart / YouTube

Early days and a life of service

Earl Meyer's journey began in June 1951, when he was serving in the Korean War. During a mortar attack, Meyer was wounded, though initially, he was unaware of his injuries. The chaos of the battlefield and the immediate danger overshadowed his pain. It was only after a medic treated him that he realized the severity of his situation. Tragically, the medic who treated him and could have documented his injuries was killed before he could complete the necessary paperwork.

Meyer continued his service, ending his tour by guarding prisoners of war and receiving an honorable discharge in 1952. His earlier military decorations included the Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded for active ground combat under enemy fire, and the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Merchant Marine during World War II.

Despite his distinguished service, Meyer's journey toward receiving the Purple Heart was fraught with bureaucratic challenges and a lack of supporting documentation, a common issue for many veterans whose service records were incomplete or lost over time.

A family’s campaign

The turning point in Meyer's quest came from the determination of his three daughters. Growing up, they knew their father had been wounded, but it was only in the last decade that Meyer opened up about his experiences. His daughters, recognizing the importance of their father's sacrifice, encouraged him to seek the Purple Heart. They, along with attorney Alan Anderson, spent nearly a decade gathering evidence and advocating for Meyer's recognition.

Their efforts were bolstered by U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, who championed Meyer’s cause. The senator's involvement provided crucial political support, highlighting the importance of honoring veterans like Meyer who had put their lives on the line for their country. Klobuchar stated, “Earl Meyer put his life on the line in defense of our freedoms, and we are forever indebted to him for his service. Earl earned this Purple Heart, and I am so glad that we were able to work with his family and the Army to get him the recognition he deserves.”

Overcoming bureaucratic hurdles

The campaign faced significant challenges, primarily due to the initial rejections by the Army citing insufficient documentation. These rejections were a common plight faced by many veterans seeking recognition, as the fog of war and the passing of decades often led to lost or incomplete records. However, the persistence of Meyer’s advocates led to a breakthrough when U.S. District Judge John Tunheim ordered an Army review board to reconsider Meyer’s case.

The review board, influenced by new documents obtained with the help of Senator Klobuchar’s office, concluded that the evidence "establishes beyond reasonable doubt" that Meyer was wounded in action. This decision was further supported by a memo from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Weimer, who expressed belief in Meyer’s account and advocated for a reassessment of his medal request.

Legacy and recognition

The resolution of Meyer's case not only symbolizes a personal victory but also sheds light on the broader issues of military recognition and the challenges veterans face in receiving their due honors. Meyer's attorney, Alan Anderson, emphasized that the effort to award the Purple Heart was not just about gratitude but also about remembrance. “It’s not just about saying thank you, it’s about remembering all they did and their sacrifices, and the guys that didn’t make it back,” Anderson said.

As preparations for a presentation ceremony are underway, Meyer’s story serves as a poignant reminder of the long-lasting impacts of war and the enduring need to honor those who have sacrificed so much. His long-awaited receipt of the Purple Heart stands as a testament to the perseverance of those who seek to ensure that every veteran receives the recognition they deserve.

 Author: Michal Fencl