Korean War veteran will finally get his Purple Heart, 73 years late

by Vern Evans

MINNEAPOLIS — A Korean War veteran from Minnesota who still carries shrapnel in his leg from when he was wounded in combat will finally get his Purple Heart medal, 73 years late.

The U.S. Army notified Earl Meyer, 96, of St. Peter, on Monday that it has reversed itself and granted him a Purple Heart, which honors service members wounded or killed in combat.

The decision came after a campaign by his daughters and attorney. U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota championed his cause. The Army’s top noncommissioned officer — the sergeant major of the army — took an interest in the case after it had been rejected for years due to a lack of paperwork. U.S. District Judge John Tunheim this year ordered an Army review board to take another look.

The Army sent Meyer’s attorney a stack of documents Monday to notify them of the decision, including a certificate in color saying it was “for wounds received in action on June 1951 in Korea.”

“Seventy-three years, yeah. That’s a long time all right. … I didn’t think they would go for it,” Meyer said in an interview Tuesday.

Meyer’s case highlights how it can be a struggle for wounded veterans to get medals they’ve earned when the fog of war, the absence of records and the passage of time make it challenging to produce proof.

“Earl Meyer put his life on the line in defense of our freedoms, and we are forever indebted to him for his service,” Klobuchar said in a statement. “Earl earned this Purple Heart, and I am so glad that we were able to work with his family and the Army to get him the recognition he deserves.”

In Meyer’s case, few men in his unit who would have witnessed the mortar attack survived. Only a few members of his platoon made it out unharmed. He didn’t even realize at first that he had been wounded. He thinks the medic who eventually treated him on the battlefield was killed before he could file the paperwork. And he wasn’t thinking then about a medal anyway — he was just trying to survive.

Meyer finished out his tour guarding prisoners of war. He was honorably discharged in 1952. The decorations he received earlier included the Combat Infantryman Badge, which is reserved for those who actively participate in ground combat under enemy fire, and the Congressional Gold Medal for his service in the Merchant Marine in World War II. He continues to live an active life that includes coffee with fellow veterans at his local American Legion post.

Growing up, Meyers’ three daughters knew he had been injured in the war. But like many veterans, he never talked much about it. It was only in the past decade or so that he opened up to them. They persuaded him to pursue a Purple Heart.

“We’re awfully excited,” said his daughter, Sandy Baker, of New Buffalo, Michigan. “My sisters and I have been working on this for about eight or nine years.”

Attorney Alan Anderson said they’re now hoping to arrange a presentation ceremony “in the near future.”

When the Army denied Meyer’s first applications for the medal, it said his documentation was insufficient. Klobuchar’s office helped him obtain additional documents, and an Army review board concluded last week that the new evidence “establishes beyond reasonable doubt that the applicant was wounded in action in early June 1951.”

The board cited records from the Department of Veterans Affairs, where doctors concluded the shrapnel in his thigh had to be from a combat injury and noted that it continued to cause him occasional pain. The board also cited a memo from Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Weimer, dated Feb. 27, who said he believed Meyer’s account was accurate, and that his medal request deserved another review.

“It’s not just about saying thank you, it’s about remembering,” Anderson said. “Remembering all they did and their sacrifices, and the guys that didn’t make it back.”

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