ATHOL, Mass. – A Soldier wounded on a Pacific Island in 1944 was finally presented with the Purple Heart at a bedside ceremony attended by family and Soldiers in his home Feb. 12, 2013.
Brig. Gen. Paul G. Smith the Assistant Adjutant General – Army for the Massachusetts National Guard, presented the award to retired Cpl. Thomas Copeland, 182nd Infantry Regiment.
The day Copeland was wounded he had volunteered for a mission to check the barbed wire used to slow down enemy Soldiers who might attack. While checking the wire the enemy attacked and shrapnel from a Japanese mortar hit him.
The unit Copeland served with during WWII, the 182nd, is one of the oldest regiments in the U.S. Army, originally formed in Salem, Mass., in 1636 and has participated in nearly every American war from 1775 to the present. The tradition born in Salem continues today because of the sacrifice of people like Copeland.
During the ceremony, Smith, the Massachusetts National Guard’s senior Army officer said, “It is an honor for all of us to be here. We grew up in a land where we have freedom of speech and this award is a reminder that your service bought that for us.”
Copeland had once sought to receive the Purple Heart but his discharge papers were damaged and so he didn’t have the documentation he needed to be considered eligible for it.
In his late 80s, Copeland’s health has been a concern to his wife, Florence R. Copeland so she reached out for help through her family, friends, and neighbors to make sure her husband got the Purple Heart.
The search took her to the Yellow Ribbon Reintegration Program where Mr. Wilfredo Melendez and Sgt. John Shaughnessy, Massachusetts National Guard, work to help National Guard and Reserve service members and their families with information, resources, programs, services, and referrals.
Shaughnessy said, “I am honored to help them get the award. We made some calls to the Army Human Resources Command and they told me he would have the award in 24 hours. I didn’t believe it wouldn’t be here that fast but it was. Everything just seemed to fall into place after that. I called his wife and she told me she had all the paperwork already,” Shaughnessy said.
Florence Copeland said, “He waited 68 years for this. He has been on crutches ever since the war. His discharge papers were burned in a fire so you couldn’t read the code that allows you to get the award so when he applied for it he was denied.”
“He is a proud veteran and he wouldn’t let me push to get it for him but when he became ill recently I wanted to make sure he got it,” Florence said.
The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the President of the United States and is limited to members of the Armed Forces of the United States who, while serving under component authority in any capacity with one of the U.S. Armed Services after 5 April 1917, has been wounded or killed, or who has died or may hereafter die after being wounded in any action against an enemy of the United States.
Originally, Gen. George Washington established the award in 1782 to recognize the merit of Soldiers. During WWII the 182nd and Soldiers like Copeland continued the tradition born in Salem that continues today because of people like Cpl. Thomas Copeland, 182nd Infantry Regiment.
Among the Soldiers present to witness Copeland receiving the award was the current commander of the 1st Battalion, 182nd Infantry Regiment, Massachusetts Army National Guard, Lt. Col. Ron Cupples.
Most recently, the 182nd returned from a tour in Afghanistan in 2012 and is regularly called on to support the commonwealth of Massachusetts during emergencies.