As Douglas residents celebrated Veteran’s Day this past weekend, a new Purple Heart exhibit was unveiled inside the Gadsden Hotel along with a new banner making it official, Douglas is now a Purple Heart city.
The designation means Douglas recognizes the sacrifice of people who have served their country, particularly those who are Purple Heart recipients and their families. The Purple Heart is the medal awarded to all U.S. military members who have been wounded or killed in combat.
The new exhibit is connected to the Wall of Faces display and features 226 names, some with pictures, of area servicemen and women who have received the Purple Heart.
“This place will serve our community well as a place to reflect and give thanks to those who have made our nation strong, endured injury, or (paid) the ultimate sacrifice,” Dusty Maklary of the American Legion said in his remarks. “These selfless individuals come from all walks of life and backgrounds from around our nation and, more specifically, from right here in Douglas. While they do not seek our thanks and recognition, we owe it to them. They were awarded the Purple Heart for their sacrifice and with this comes our thanks and gratitude.”
One of those on the Purple Heart wall is Frank Palma, who was wounded while fighting in Vietnam at the age of 19.
Palma was one of a group of four that was wounded February 23, 1972 when, while preparing for a mission on a chinook helicopter, were attacked and injured. All four survived and returned to active duty shortly later. Never did he think, 50-years later, he would be standing in a room filled with Purple Heart recipients.
“What we have here is incredible; it’s very touching,” Palma said of the Purple Heart display. “This is one of the awards you never want to get. You never know if you’re going to survive or not. I hate to stand here and say I am one of the lucky ones, because there’s others that didn’t make it.”
Palma said he is happy to see the new exhibit and encourages the community to stop by and visit it.
A special ceremony was held Sunday at the Gadsden opening the new display and making it official, Douglas is now a Purple Heart city.
Ginny Jordan gave a brief history on the journeys of the Wall of Faces exhibit.
She stated that since it opened, over 9,000 people from all over the world have signed their guest book.
A new addition was just added to the exhibit from the family of Douglas native, CSM Roberto S. Rivera. His daughter Maria (Rivera) Steininger, along with her brother Mark Rivera, came to Douglas from Tacoma, Washington and Kansas for the ceremony.
“It is a privilege and an honor being here with all of you in my father’s hometown on the eve of Veteran’s Day,” she said in her remarks. “My dad graduated from Douglas High School in 1957, ‘Once a Bulldog, always a Bulldog’. He subsequently enlisted in the U.S. Army, ‘Once a soldier, always a soldier.’”
She stated that behind every successful man is a good woman and that person was her mother Vivian, her dad’s high school sweetheart.
“They married and began the Army way of life and embraced all of the joys and hardships that go along with it,” she said. “The joys, blessed with four kids, the travel, the opportunity to become part of the military community. The hardships; time away from the family unit, the constant travel. I remember the moving van had just arrived at our house in West Point (in) 1978 and my father telling my mom that we would be relocating again in six months to Ft. Devens. My mom, ‘Robert! Why are we even unpacking?’”
Maria said her parents love for each other and for the welfare of the soldiers and their families is where they found their true passion, for God and country.
Maria said when her father passed away a little over a year ago to reunite with her mother in Heaven, she brought some family pictures and what she thought were some old negatives in an envelope that her mother had kept in her nightstand.
“It was then that we pledged to honor him with a military exhibit in his home town,” she said. “It been a tremendous journey and we would like to thank the City of Douglas and the Douglas Veterans Commemoration Project Committee. Ginny Jordan, her passion and commitment is contagious. Every face on the Wall of Faces has a story and she shares them so brilliantly. Frank Palma, Hector Leon, Johnny Perez and Don Jordan (all veterans), you guys are awesome and thank you for your service. This weekend is about celebrating all veterans.”
Also honored Sunday was this year’s Veteran’s Day parade grand marshal Martin Ramirez, who turns 100-years old on Wednesday, Nov. 13. Ramirez is the last known member of the Arizona National Guard Bushmasters Company C that served in WWII. He served with the Bushmasters from Douglas who were trained in jungle fighting and were known to be feared by the enemy. He and his brother Richard both served together in WWII. They also lost two family members who were killed in action in Vietnam.
Monday’s Veteran’s Day parade featured over 50 entries, all honoring our veterans. After the parade there was an open house at the American Legion.