Seventy years after the Korean War ended, veteran Earl Meyer is still waiting for his Purple Heart.
The 96-year-old Minnesotan can still feel the shrapnel that remains lodged in his leg that he says happened when his platoon came under heavy fire in June 1951. Doctors have said it’s too close to his sciatic nerve to remove.
In recent years, at the urging of his daughters who he only opened up to about his war experiences as he got older, Meyer decided to apply for a Purple Heart, but he has repeatedly been denied as decades have faded positive proof.
“Earl Meyer put his life on the line in defense of our freedoms, and we will continue to do all we can to further the work to rightfully honor his service,” Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whose office helped Meyer get supporting documents from the National Archives, said in a statement.
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Department of Veterans Affairs doctors have said that Meyer’s injuries most likely came from being wounded in combat, which he says happened during an attack in June 1951, and he had provided documents to back up his claim.
Still, few of the men who were there that day survive and Meyer believes the medic who patched him up and agreed to fill out paperwork about his injury was killed before he could.
“At first I didn’t know that I had been wounded,” Meyer wrote in a sworn statement that was part of his rejected appeal. “But as my unit advanced from where the mortar rounds were hitting, I noticed that my pants were sticking to my leg. I reached down to correct this and discovered that my hand was covered in blood.”
But an Army review board issued what it said was a final rejection of his request, saying he had insufficient documentation.
After Meyer made the tough decision to sue the Army in September, with his lawyer arguing that veterans with similar situations have been given Purple Hearts in the past, Sgt. Maj. of the Army Michael Weimer, the Army top non-commissioned officer, told the Associated Press they are giving his case another look.
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“The Sergeant Major of the Army’s Office is engaging with Mr. Meyer’s family and looking into the situation,” spokesperson Master Sgt. Daniel Wallace said. “Either way, we’re proud of Mr. Meyer’s service to our country.”
Meyer said his daughters are the reason he’s applying for a Purple Heart. He never thought about it when he was younger because his injuries were relatively minor.
“I think it will provide closure for him,” his daughter Sandy Baker said. “I really do.”
“Under wartime conditions, wounds requiring medical treatment by a medical officer will not always receive such treatment, and, even if a Soldier requiring such treatment receives it, there will be cases where the treatment is not made a matter of official record,” the board said in that case. “In such cases, other sources, including credible statements from colleagues, may be useful in establishing the circumstances in which a Soldier was wounded.”
He also hurt his back days after the shrapnel injury and was given a tetanus shot at the time, apparently for the shrapnel.
“I still had the hole in my pants and the blood on it,” Meyer said about his treatment for his back injury. “I should have told them at that time.”
Meyer was honorably discharged in 1952, and earned the Combat Infantryman Badge for participating in ground combat under enemy fire and the Congressional Gold Medal for his time with the Merchant Marine in World War II.
While he wishes more documentation was made during his time in the Korean War, he said his thoughts were more immediate at the time. “I was just glad to get out of there.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.