By Leigh Armstrong
Mayor Andrew Cremata has proclaimed Skagway as a Purple Heart city and declared September as Purple Heart Month.
Cremata made the decision after receiving an email from John Knott, commander for Alaska’s Military Order of the Purple Heart, notifying the mayor that Skagway was eligible for the status.
“It was really nice to get that email and this is a distinct honor that only a few cities in Alaska have been recognized with,” Cremata said. He announced the designation at the Aug. 1 borough assembly meeting.
Currently, only Palmer and Wasilla are recognized as Purple Heart cities in Alaska. Matanuska-Susitna is recognized as a Purple Heart borough.
Though Purple Heart Day is observed nationally on Aug. 7, Skagway volunteers have selected September to honor the vets.
The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers wounded or killed while in combat. For the past two years, medal recipients have come to Skagway as part of Mission Objective Outdoors, a local nonprofit that works to provide an Alaska experience for wounded soldiers.
Originally created as the Badge of Military Merit in 1782 by Gen. George Washington, who is featured prominently on the medal, the Purple Heart as it is known today was first approved for issue in 1932. The original Badge of Military Merit was given for meritorious action, which closely resembles the modern Medal of Honor, according the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
The medals, in the shape of a heart, generally are given out as immediate awards to military members as they are wounded. In a report on the history of the medal, National Geographic estimated the total at nearly 2 million as of 2010, with 42,348 given out during the Afghanistan and Iraq wars.
A service member can only be awarded one Purple Heart for their uniform. The signifier of more than one combat injury is an oak leaf cluster placed on the ribbon.
To go with the medal, recipients are given benefits beyond the typical veteran, which include full education benefits under the post-9/11 GI Bill, which usually requires three years of service to reach full benefits.,
In Skagway, the Mission Objective Outdoors group is raising money to bring medal recipients and other veterans to town again this year to focus on emotional healing through outdoor activities like fishing and hunting. The nonprofit is holding a fundraising raffle to help cover the cost of this year’s travelers, who arrive Sept. 11.
The group is looking to build on last year’s success. “It was really well-supported by the community,” Cremata said. “There were around 80 or 90 people waiting for (the veterans) as they got off the plane.”
At 5 p.m. Sept. 12 at City Hall, The Elks, along with Mission Objective Outdoors will be presenting a flag to the municipality that shows Skagway as a Purple Heart city.
There will be a free dinner for veterans at 8 p.m. Sept. 11 at the Elks, hosted by Mission Objective Outdoors. Civilians are welcome to attend but will be charged $25.
For more information on Mission Objective Outdoors or to be a part of the group that welcomes the veterans on Sept. 11, email firstname.lastname@example.org.