Soldiers honored, memorial unveiled at Purple Heart Medal ceremony

By Staff Sgt. Mike R. Smith, Guard Times Staff

ALBANY, N.Y. – Four Soldiers from the NY Army National Guard sat on a park bench in the peaceful surroundings of a beech tree grove one sunny August afternoon. The quiet setting seemed in sharp contrast to the explosive combat of Iraq where the Soldiers were wounded several months ago.

As members of the 2nd Battalion, 108th Infantry Regiment Staff Sgt. Troy Mechanick, Sgt. James D. MacDonald, and Spc. Timothy Durie were wounded during an enemy attack on their convoy on Easter Sunday. The attack claimed the life of their friend and fellow Soldier, Pfc. Nathan Brown — Sgt. Christopher M. Paiser, also with the regiment, was wounded from an enemy mortar attack on his unit’s compound.

But on this day, Aug. 6, they received their Purple Heart Medals in a park near the Empire State Plaza. A fleeting moment of gratitude for their combat wounds, which left behind scars and memories they will carry for a lifetime.

“It’s a very important award…it’s an honor to receive it,” said specialist Durie, who suffered shrapnel wounds to his knee and a hearing loss from the Iraqi insurgent attack on Apr. 11. Durie underwent several operations to repair his knee and is recovering. “We just all wanted to come home safe,” he said. “It’s a medal you don’t want to get.”

Also on this day, the Soldiers unveiled a memorial dedicated to all New York Purple Heart Medal recipients. Paid for with the courage and sacrifice of many, the national Military Order of the Purple Heart donated it to the state. Inscribed on its red granite face are the words, “My stone is red for the blood they shed”—the memorial will ensure their sacrifices are remembered, silently expressing the gratitude, seen on this day, for generations.

“No military award is more emblematic of the sacrifice…Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen, and Marines have made to keep our nation free,” said Maj. Gen. Thomas P. Maguire, Jr., Adjutant General.

A large crowd of friends and family attended the ceremony, situated on the small lawn that separates the memorial from Albany’s Madison Avenue. Governor George E. Pataki, U.S. Representative John E. Sweeney, New York State Senator William J Larkin, Jr., general Maguire, Maj. Gen. Richard S. Colt, U.S. Army Reserve, other New York State officials and members of the Military Order of the Purple Heart joined them.

According to a state spokesman, the Purple Heart is the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and is the first American award made available to the common Soldier. General George Washington initially created what he then called a “Badge of Military Merit” on Aug. 7, 1782, during the Revolutionary War.

“The New York Purple Heart Memorial is a … tribute to the thousands of New Yorkers who have selflessly served our state and nation and risked their lives, so that we may live in freedom,” said Governor Pataki. He went on to say that the memorial would remind New Yorkers of those who have put their lives on the line. “We always pray that the long list [of recipients] will have no more names,” he said.

“It’s nice to be back home, but there are still Soldiers over there,” said specialist Durie.

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