By Jennifer L. Warren
NEWBURGH – Illuminated, fulfilled, and most of all, validated.
Those were the words Army Veteran Sergeant Jon Wamb Cook of California used to describe his Purple Heart Experience last Wednesday. After spending a couple of days soaking up the special historical depth of the Hudson Valley region: First on Tuesday at The United States Military Academy for “West Point Day,” then on Wednesday for National Purple Heart Day touring New Windsor’s The Purple Heart Museum and Washington’s Headquarters as well as participating in a culminating, heartfelt Ceremony at the City of Newburgh’s Armory Unity Center, Cook was visibly touched by the outpouring of love as well as depth of history that surrounded him.
“Besides being a recipient of the Purple Heart, I’ve also been given the opportunity to research and discover the rich history of this award, and it was just so illuminating,” said Cook following Wednesday evening’s Ceremony. “I didn’t think I needed to have anything more, but this whole experience was just so fulfilling and special, and now I truly feel validated.
That similar “validation” was provided to 32 other war veterans from all over the country who were honored for their remarkable patriotism, loyalty, leadership and courage with the prestigious Purple Heart distinction. It was made possible by the Purple Heart Patriot Project Mission #1, aimed at connecting Purple Heart veterans with other recipients, while experiencing a grateful nation, seeing to it their courage and sacrifice were not in vain. It is all part of the umbrella, National Purple Heart Honor Mission, honoring our nation’s combat wounded through special outreach and educational programs. The organization was also pivotal in the creation of the Purple Heart Forever Stamp as well as current effort for the minting of an official Purple Heart Commemorative Coin by the United States Governement.
Making the occasion even more memorable was its happening at the oldest armory in the nation as well as the national museum celebrating its beauty and the very day that pays homage to it. Still another local connection could be found with the night’s guest speaker, Lieutenant Paul “Buddy” Bucha, a West Point graduate as well as instructor.
“My home is the Hudson Valley where I had my roots and raised a family right here in the Hudson Valley, and it’s absolutely wonderful to be back,” began Bucha. “The Purple Heart Hall is located here for a reason; thank you so much for honoring all of the people sitting here on this stage as well as myself.”
Bucha also spoke about the cornerstone ingredients needed for effective leadership. After years of guiding soldiers through some of the most challenging times and missions, Bucha found the three “C’s;” Confidence, competence and compassion to be the key qualities in a leader. He further relayed some other pearls of wisdom his lengthy military career instilled upon him.
“When you lead, you need to have the courage to say, ‘follow me,’ and love is at the foundation of that as well as honor,” affirmed Wamb. “It’s also our time in life that is the one thing we have to give that’s truly finite; we only have so much of it, so it’s so important to give it completely.”
And it’s that very time that the 33 Purple Heart recipients gave, freely, in many cases voluntarily, and passionately to selflessly and courageously defend the country they dearly love. Wednesday their presence along with heroic actions received pause, respect, and gratitude.
“All the people on this stage answered the call of duty, not because they like war, but because they love their country,” said Colonel Russ Vernon, Master of Ceremonies. “We have to honor our veterans; we don’t want to forget history, and any time we can stand among heroes, what an honor!”