Correction to This Article
An April 21 Metro article about the awarding of Purple Hearts incorrectly reported that Spec. Maxwell D. Ramsey remained in his wheelchair when he was awarded his medal at a ceremony at Mount Vernon. With the assistance of his father, Ramsey stood when his Purple Heart was pinned to his uniform.

Sacrifice Honored In Hallowed Place

Guests and honorees pay respects to the colors at a ceremony at Mount Vernon in which seven soldiers injured in Iraq received the Purple Heart.
Guests and honorees pay respects to the colors at a ceremony at Mount Vernon in which seven soldiers injured in Iraq received the Purple Heart. (Photos By Bill O'leary -- The Washington Post)

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By Carol Morello
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, April 21, 2006

A journey of pain and loss, beginning with roadside bombs in Iraq and pausing at Walter Reed Army Medical Center, brought seven soldiers to Mount Vernon yesterday in a Purple Heart ceremony filled with reminders of war's sacrifice.

The choice of George Washington's estate for the ceremony was a symbolic return to the medal's birthplace. It was Washington who established the Purple Heart in 1782 during the final months of the Revolutionary War. And it was beside his grave that yesterday's ceremony was held.

The dusty, clamorous war zones of Iraq seemed a distant memory and yet achingly close as the six men and one woman arrived by bus at a lawn dappled by sunlight. All seven soldiers and a four-star general who spoke came dressed in desert camouflage uniforms that contrasted sharply with the expanse of green grass and flowering shrubs. Three soldiers were in wheelchairs, although one, Spec. Sergio Lopez of Bolingbrook, Ill., had a cane, which he used for support as he struggled to his feet to receive his medal.

The presence of those who were absent was noted.

"It's not about you," said Capt. Robert S. Klinger, 38, of Frederick, whose ankle was fractured in a bomb blast in Tikrit a year ago after Iraq's national elections. "I'm thinking about my soldiers. The ones I lost, and the ones who were wounded."

This is the second year that Washington's estate at Mount Vernon has hosted a Purple Heart ceremony for men and women wounded in Iraq. The Purple Heart was the nation's first award for enlisted troops and is the oldest military award given, according to the Defense Department.

Yesterday's recipients are all in the Army -- active duty, National Guard or Reserve. All were wounded by improvised explosive devices, roadside bombs planted by insurgents. IEDs left several with wounds that will alter the remainder of their lives -- the loss of a foot, a leg, a hand or sight in one eye. They are being treated at Walter Reed.

Speakers told them that their sacrifices were for a good cause.

"I cannot take away the physical pain and the sense of loss I know you feel," said Gen. Richard Cody, the Army's vice chief of staff. "But I can assure you your wounds are not in vain. We will win this global war on terror. We will vanquish the enemies who threaten our shores and freedom around the world."

Gordon England, deputy secretary of defense, said the honorees had much in common with the three volunteers from Connecticut regiments who received the first Purple Hearts from Gen. Washington.

"They also volunteered to step forward and defend their country in its hour of need," he said.

Spec. Maxwell D. Ramsey, 36, of Hilton Head Island, S.C., hugged his wife, Ayako, who stood beside his wheelchair, burying his head in her abdomen and shedding a tear as he listened to the speeches. Ramsey was wounded in March when a bomb exploded under a truck in which he was riding near Ramadi. He lost his left leg above the knee and had hoped to be fitted with a prosthesis before the awards ceremony.


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