National Purple Heart Day honors wounded vets

(7/30/19)
Ron Alt, left, Gwyndell Holloway, Larry Yepez, Tino Adame, Joseph Maes, and Frank Wright are area veterans who have received Purple Hear medals [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Aug. 7 is National Purple Heart Day.
It was originally created by Gen. George Washington to commemorate meritorious service during the Revolutionary War but fell into disuse after the war, according to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor.
It was revived by Gen. Douglas McArthur on the Washington’s 200th birthday in 1932 to commemorate bravery. During World War II it was changed to honor those who were killed or wounded in battle. Although the Pentagon doesn’t track the number of Purple Hearts or type of injuries, an estimated 1.8 million medals have been awarded.
Recently, San Joaquin County Purple Heart recipients recounted the stories of how they were wounded.

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Frank Wright, Stockton

(7/30/19)
94-year-old Frank Wright of Stockton, a retired Marine, was wounded twice during WWII. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

94-year-old Frank Wright of Stockton received two Purple Hearts for wounds he sustained as a Marine during WWII. Wright served from 1942 to 1946. When he enlisted, he lied to the recruiters. He said he was 17, but was only 16 at the time. He was first wounded in Guam in February 1944 when he was assigned to the 3rd Marine Division.
During his first battle with that unit they fended off a “banzai” charge from the enemy. “I won that one,” Wright said.  A few nights later they were charged again by a force of about 400 soldiers.
“I shot as many as I could before I ran out of ammunition,” Wright said. “I lost that one. I got stuck in the stomach (with a bayonet).”
When he was stabbed he fell backwards into his foxhole. The enemy fell along with him and Wright grabbed his knife and killed him with it. They remained in the hole for the rest of the night. It took him about a month to recover from his wounds and return to fight.
In March 1945, Wright was then attached to the 21st Marine 3rd Division, a floating reserve for the 4th and 5th Divisions at Iwo Jima. His regiment was ordered to attack Hill 382. They charged the hill four times and on the fifth attempt, Wright was sprayed with machine-gun fire. The was hit in the chest and arm. He was evacuated from the battlefield eventually to be discharged and recover stateside.

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Larry Yepez, Stockton

(7/30/19)
Larry Yepez of Stockton served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969. He was wounded bring a battle in Da Nang in the DMZ on July 29, 1967. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

Larry Yepez of Stockton served with the Marines in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969. He was wounded during a battle in Da Nang in the DMZ on July 29, 1967. He was a part of a battalion sent into fight 3 regiments of North Vietnamese Army battle-hardened soldiers.
They dug in and waited for an attack. The morning of the 29th was his squad leader’s birthday so they had a small cake for him and they sang Happy Birthday. Then the first mortar and rocket fire started raining down on them.
From that moment on they fought all day and into the night. The Marines tried to break out in small groups. When it was Yepez’s turn he took off running but was shot in the arm and fell. He could see the bullets hitting the ground around him. The medic couldn’t get to him because of he was under heavy fire. Yepez got up and started running again. This time he was hit in the foot.
Thinking that he had just tripped and fallen, Yepez jumped back up and ran some more. Then a rocket round hit behind him. The explosion embedded shrapnel in his back and threw him into the air. After he landed he was enveloped in a cloud of smoke. At first he thought they were some heavenly clouds, then a pair of hands of a fellow Marine appeared through the smoke grabbed him by his flak jacket and pulled him behind a nearby tank.
With his adrenaline pumping, Yepez didn’t feel the pain of his wounds so they ran to a landing zone for evacuation. The medivac helicopters were taking too much fire for the wounded to be moved by air, so they were loaded onto tanks.
As the tank moved out, Yepez heard the rounds pinging off the tank’s armor. He grabbed his fellow Marine, jumped off and rolled into a bomb crater. The tank rolled over a hill, got hit with a rocket and exploded. Yepez spent the night in the crater with about 20 wounded men. They were rescued the next morning reinforcements arrived. As he was airlifted from the battlefield he could see the ground covered with the bodies of the fallen.

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Gwyndell Holloway, Stockton

(7/30/19)
72-year-old Gwyndell Holloway of Stockton served with the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969 and he also received 2 Purple Hearts. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

72-year-old Gwyndell Holloway of Stockton served with the Army in Vietnam from 1966 to 1969 and he also received two Purple Hearts. In November 1967, after being in Vietnam for 6 months, he was out on a listening post with three other men to find out where the enemy was. When they were out patrolling about 2 a.m., the main base was attacked by about 1,800 North Vietnamese Army troops.

Holloway and his comrades were caught in no man’s land. They recovered fire from U.S. gunships and heavy artillery as well as taking enemy fire. A round exploded near his squad which killed one of Holloway’s patrol mates and wounded another.

The remaining soldiers retreated to a river which they had crossed earlier. Holloway was hit in the back by some shrapnel. The fighting was so fierce that he wasn’t sure if it was from an enemy round or from friendly fire. Holloway was pulled from the river by one of the artillery men. It took him about 3 weeks to recover from his wounds and returned to his unit.
With 29 days left in his tour in Vietnam, Holloway was in base camp when there was a mortar/rocket attack. He caught a round to the back of the head but survived. He suffered a traumatic brain injury but remarkably he recovered after about a month and was returned to service and finished out his enlistment stateside.

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Ron Alt, Stockton

(7/30/19)
74-year-old Ron Alt served in the Marines 1964 to 1971 with the 1st, 5th and 26th Division of the Marines in Vietnam. He was wounded twice. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]

74-year-old Ron Alt served in the Marines 1964 to 1971 with the 1st, 5th and 26th Division of the Marines in Vietnam. He was wounded twice.
The first time was in 1966 during a battle near Da Nang where his unit was forcing the enemy back towards a river to try to sandwich them between U.S. Forces on the other side of the river. Alt was standing next to tank when was shot in the arm. Then the tank ran over a landmine, blowing off its track and giving Alt a concussion. After 2 months of recuperation he was sent back to his unit.

The 2nd time was in 1966 in Khe Sanh he was on his way back from an afternoon patrol when they let their guard down and were ambushed. Of the 12 that were in the patrol, only 4 made it out.
Alt was shot and a colleague started to carry him out but was shot in the back. They fell near the base of some trees. The enemy were shooting the fallen Marines so they laid still and pretended to be dead.
Army helicopters came to their rescue and chased the enemy away. Both of Alt’s legs and arms were broken from bullet wounds as was his shoulder blade. He also sustained wounds to his face and neck. He and the other wounded were evacuated to a field hospital and the to the U.S.S. Hope medical ship, then on to Japan for two months of recovery. He was finally sent back to the States for more operations and recuperation.

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Joseph Maes, Stockton

(7/30/19)
Joesph Maes served in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. On November 18, 1968. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]


Joseph Maes served in the Army in Vietnam from 1967 to 1969. On Nov. 18, 1968, he and his patrol of about 20 soldiers were on their way back to base after looking for ambushes when the point man of the group triggered a mine. Maes took shrapnel to the arm, leg and stomach. When he regained consciousness, he found himself at the bottom of a bomb crater. The area was so infiltrated with the enemy that he couldn’t be rescued right away, Maes was wounded about 7 a.m and wasn’t rescued until 10 p.m. It took him 2 weeks to recover and be returned to his unit.

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Tino Adame, Stockton

(7/30/19)
Tino Adame served with the “Hotel” company 29, 3rd Marine Division and was wounded in Vietnam on November 16, 1966. [CLIFFORD OTO/THE RECORD]


Tino Adame served with the “Hotel” company 29, 3rd Marine Division and was wounded in Vietnam on Nov. 16, 1966. He was on a patrol with about platoon of about 50 men when they walked into a “horseshoe” ambush.
During the battle a corpsman came up to him and said that he was hit in the ankle. Adame hadn’t felt the wound at first. A medivac helicopter was called in but as it tried to land it took fire and crashed.
A fellow Marine saw Adame on the ground and picked him up and carried him to another landing zone. He was finally evacuated to Da Nang where he was treated then received a medical discharge.

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Yepez says that the effects of his wounds follow him to this day. When treating him, doctors said that he might lose his forearm. They operated and managed to save it but his hand was twisted into a gnarled claw. Through painful physical therapy he was able to regain motion in that hand. To this day he has to carefully stretch his hand every morning to maintain its use.

Holloway says he suffered from nightmares and flashbacks when he returned home from the war. They’ve lessened over time but if he sees a war movie on tv, the horrible memories of war return.

Each to the men give praise and credit to their spouses for understanding and helping them get through their pain and difficulties.

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