They will bear the scars of war for a lifetime, but also have the admiration of all Americans. Dozens of Purple Heart heroes have been chosen to represent their states as honorees for the 2021 Purple Heart Patriot Project, the National Purple Heart Honor Mission announced this Veteran’s Day. This ‘Honor Flight’ style, salute to service will bring together Purple Heart heroes from virtually every conflict of the last century to honor their courage and sacrifice. The multi-day Patriot Project Mission will feature visits to the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, historic Washington’s Headquarters where the Badge of Military Merit originated in 1782, and a private tour of the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor – the museum dedicated to paying tribute to our nation’s combat wounded. Other special tribute events are also being planned.
“Our Purple Heart recipients have made enormous sacrifices for America and this is our opportunity to say ‘thank you’ on behalf of a grateful nation. For some, this will be the homecoming they never had. Bringing these distinguished veterans to the Hall of Honor, which serves as a testament to all they gave, couldn’t be a more fitting tribute,” said Purple Heart recipient Richard Lay, chairman of the Board of Directors of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission.
“Our 2021 Purple Heart Patriot Project honorees embody the depth and diversity of America’s combat wounded through the decades,” said National Purple Heart Honor Mission Executive Director, Russell Vernon, Col. (USA Ret). “We received hundreds of nominations from across the country and this group is truly representative of Purple Heart recipients who served our nation and continue to serve their communities. They’ve saved the world from the darkness of Nazism, communism, fascism and terrorism and this is an opportunity to connect with their fellow Purple Heart recipients and share stories only they can fully appreciate.”
Among this year’s distinguished honorees is Andrew Spores of Illinois, a World War II veteran and son of two Greek immigrants, who was drafted at 18. Spores fought in the battles of Naples and Monte Casino where he was injured with shrapnel, received treatment, and was sent back to the front lines. Spores is still plagued by injuries he received on the beaches of Anzio and the battle of Rome.
Another 2021 honoree, Steven Zerger of Colorado, is a retired Army Sergeant First Class who was grievously wounded-in-action during his fourth combat tour in Vietnam while leading his platoon into a desperate firefight. Zerger went on to serve his country for nearly two decades and continues to mentor new Purple Heart recipients as a leader in the Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH).
Louisiana’s Patriot Project honoree, Spec. Albert Lirette, earned four Purple Hearts while serving in Vietnam. Washington Sanchez, Florida’s honoree, is the MOPH’s Patriot of the Year for the state of Florida. He served 27 years as an Army officer, including combat in Vietnam where he received his Purple Heart as a Forward Observer.
Past Purple Heart recipients who have participated in the 2019 Patriot Project have been moved by the outpouring of gratitude from the public and the immediate sense of camaraderie they felt with their fellow honorees. During the 2021 Patriot Project Mission, Purple Heart recipient, Johnny Joey Jones (SSgt. USMC Ret.) will also receive the Honor Mission’s Genesis Legacy Medal for his work advocating for our nation’s veterans.
“This amazing event would not be possible without tremendous generosity from several patriotic organizations. We thank our tremendous sponsors, especially ShopRite Supermarkets and LendingTree, without whom this event would not be possible. We also thank all the friends, families and neighbors who provided us with so many deserving nominations,” Vernon said.
The 2021 Purple Heart Patriot Project Honorees include:
- Edward Evans, Alabama – Korean War
- Stephen Blair, Alaska – Operation Enduring Freedom
- Calvin Chambers, Arkansas – Vietnam War
- Salvador Carrillo, California – Vietnam War
- Steven Zerger, Colorado – Vietnam War
- Robert Sodergren, Connecticut – Vietnam War
- Joseph Hill, Delaware – Vietnam War
- Washington Sanchez, Florida – Vietnam War
- Randy Dollar, Georgia – Vietnam War
- Tommy Tanaka, Hawaii – Korean War
- Leonard Crosby, Idaho – Vietnam War
- Andrew Spores, Illinois – World War II
- John Huelsenbeck, Indiana – Vietnam War
- Jack Hanson, Iowa – Vietnam War
- Harrison Manyoma, Kentucky – Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Albert Lirette, Louisiana – Vietnam War
- Gary Lawyerson, Maine – Vietnam War
- John Hurley, Massachusetts – Vietnam War
- Shannon Matthews, Minnesota – Gulf War
- Truitt Breazeale, Mississippi – Vietnam War
- Troy Green, Missouri – Operation Enduring Freedom
- Dave Hugus, Nevada – Vietnam War
- Edward Gerasimowicz, New Jersey – Vietnam War
- Mark Donald, New Mexico – Operation Enduring Freedom
- Oliver Hickok, New York – Vietnam War
- Christopher Ghee, North Carolina – Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Robert Olzweski, North Dakota – Vietnam War
- Joseph Wesner, Ohio – Operation Enduring Freedom
- Mitchel Reed, Oklahoma – Vietnam War
- Lawrence Rupp, Oregon – Vietnam War
- J. Patrick Little, Pennsylvania – Vietnam War
- Kenneth Allan Howe, Rhode Island – Vietnam War
- Connie Johnson, South Dakota – Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Robert Buswell, Tennessee – Vietnam War
- Lazaro Camarillo, Texas – Vietnam War
- Wendy Buckingham, Virginia – Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Douglas Quick, West Virginia – Operation Iraqi Freedom
- Mike Gawel, Wisconsin – Operation Enduring Freedom
- Albert Walsh, Wyoming – Operation Iraqi Freedom