Purple Heart Day celebration immortalizes war veterans’ stories

SHARE Purple Heart Day celebration immortalizes war veterans’ stories

Navy veteran Mike Lash, a Purple Heart recipient, is interviewed Sunday by Jill Thomas (left) and Angela Baker for the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. | Jacob Wittich/Sun-Times

Mike Lash, a U.S. Navy veteran and Chicago native, still remembers in vivid detail the two explosions he survived in the Vietnam War.

The first came from a B40 rocket that exploded about 10 feet away in August 1968, Lash said. Months later, it happened again when a larger rocket exploded near him in December. Both times he suffered severe shrapnel wounds and spent about a month in the hospital.

“It’s an unusual feeling getting hurt because you don’t feel any pain initially. It’s more like you’re in a dead zone,” Lash said. “There’s no sound. You can’t hear anything. It’s a strange feeling like out of a movie.”

Lash, along with seven others who received Purple Hearts, immortalized his stories as a war veteran on Sunday by sharing them with court reporters from the National Court Reporters Association to celebrate National Purple Heart Day. The Purple Heart is given to U.S. armed forces members who have been wounded in combat.

The interviews, conducted and transcribed by reporters from Depo International, a court reporting agency affiliated with the association, will then be archived in the Library of Congress as part of its Veterans History Project, which seeks to preserve personal accounts of U.S. war veterans in an archived collection.

“I’m doing this for future generations,” Lash said. “So future people can get an idea of what it was like [in war] . . . and people interested in the military can see if it’s something they would like to do.”

The conversation touched on a range of topics, spanning from Lash’s first days at boot camp after enlisting in 1965 to his life as a Chicago police officer after leaving the military. He said joining the military taught him how to be an American as well as how to survive life.

However, he declined to comment when asked for his thoughts on Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump’s comments that he “always wanted to get the Purple Heart” after a war veteran gave his Purple Heart to Trump at a campaign event last week.

“We’re not allowed to get involved in political discussions being involved in the Purple Heart Order,” Lash said.

April Weiner, foundation manager for the National Court Reporters Association, said documenting veterans’ stories is important because, on average, 1,500 veterans die each day.

“We’re all getting older, so there will come a time you can’t ask me any questions,” Lash added.

The eight interviews conducted Sunday will be accessible online as well as archived in an on-site storage facility in the Library of Congress, Weiner said.

“War is unimaginable if you haven’t been through it, and these interviews help to give more life to their stories,” Weiner said. “One of the veterans spelled it out in a beautiful way, and it’s that they’re not sharing these stories for themselves; they’re sharing them for the guys that didn’t make it back. They’re sharing their legacy.”

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