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History Corner By Pat Ross & Fran Snead


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September 01, 2016

In November of this year, Bassett Historical Center will be the recipient of a bench commemorating the 5oth anniversary of the DMZ (demilitarized zone) Conflict and also to remember those Henry Countians that fought in the Korean War. I have to give credit where credit is due. This project was the brain child of David Minter who served on the DMZ. He felt that since this year was the 50th anniversary of the DMZ War, something should be done in our area to recognize those who fought in the Korean War and the DMZ with having ties to Henry County. Paul Kennedy of Bassett Funeral Service became our fearless leader for this endeavor. After placing an article in the Martinsville Bulletin and by spreading this so called project by word of mouth, names literally began pouring in. To date, we have over 100 men whose names will be included on the bench. It has been extremely interesting and not to mention educational meeting some of these Veterans and in other cases family members who want their relatives to be included on this bench and in a small way to be honored and memorialized. A family member brought papers in one afternoon in order for her father’s name to be added to the bench. She explained to us that there had been a house fire some time ago and most everything was lost. She had sent away for her father’s papers and was very pleased that they had arrived before our deadline. Pat was looking through the paperwork making sure that all of the needed information was there. Very excited, Pat made the remark, “Oh, your dad received a purple heart!” The lady looked at my mother with tears in her eyes and said, “Thank you for showing me. I didn’t know.” This is one of those times when we know what we do here at the Center makes a difference.

Some men want to share their stories when they come into the Center while others just simply want to forget as that was another lifetime. I sit and listen in awe and fascination to the stories told by soldiers who visited the Center to bring their service papers. One story told was that of a soldier who was guarding the Russian border while in treacherous conditions of temperatures reaching sixty nine degrees below zero. Another mind blowing story was that of a soldier who laid silently beneath a pile of his dead comrades. While hidden from the enemy he remained still while they speared the fallen bodies making sure that they were really dead. After what had to have seemed like forever, he was rescued the next day by soldiers from another unit by having to chisel his frozen body out of the ground. I always try to shake hands with the Veterans I meet and thank them for their service. But to be honest, I truly cannot wrap my brain around sacrifices such as these because I have never had to endure anything remotely like them.

With Betty Scott and David Kipfinger on board, our small committee of six felt that it would be appropriate to distinguish those soldiers listed on the bench from the others who were KIA, MIA, POW and those who had received a Purple Heart. Of all of the soldiers that will be included on this bench, only 14 of them received a Purple Heart. This got me to thinking about the history of the Purple Heart since I had just seen a program on television about its anniversary.

As Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, General George Washington wanted to recognize merit among his soldiers, so he devised the Badge of Military Merit on August 7, 1782. The Badge of Military Merit was a simple purple heart shaped piece of silk that had the word “Merit” stitched across the heart in silver thread. There are only three known Revolutionary War soldiers to receive this award: Sergeant Elijah Churchill, Sergeant William Brown, and Sergeant Daniel Bissel, Jr. The badge was not issued again, even though there was a strong suggested need for it, until February 22, 1932, on George Washington’s 200th birthday out of respect to both his memory and his military achievements. General Douglas MacArthur created what we know today as the modern version of the Purple Heart. The current Purple Heart is a heart shaped medal set within a gold border containing a profile of the bust of General George Washington and his coat of arms. The back of the medal consists of a raised bronze heart with the words For Military Merit resting below the coat of arms. The medal is primarily designed to recognize meritorious service and is also given to soldiers wounded or killed in battle. Ironically, General MacArthur was presented with Purple Heart Number 1. In 1942, President Roosevelt authorized the Purple Heart for all branches of military service. Receiving the Purple Heart is not just an award but an entitlement and to date the military has awarded more than 1.7 million Purple Hearts to soldiers, sailors, Marines, and airmen – some of whom will be included on “our” bench.

In the War Room here at the Center, there are many fascinating military displays, photographs, uniforms and items honoring our local heroes. Found on the back wall is a framed certificate for Private Otha Maxwell who was awarded the Purple Heart for military merit and for wounds received in action resulting in his death on May 17, 1945. There is an actual Purple Heart on display lying under a glass case in the War Room once belonging to Technical Sergeant Robert Elwood Gerstung awarded for his gallantry and going above and beyond the call of duty. It really is a sight to behold.

Thank you to all who have served stateside or on foreign soil. It is because of this act of selflessness that we are able to live the lives that we do. Thank you for your service.

Fran Snead

“Our flag does not fly because the wind moves it. It flies with the last breath of each soldier who died protecting it.” Anonymous










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