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Selectmen proclaim Westborough a Purple Heart Town

Posted by John Swinconeck  July 23, 2013 02:19 PM

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John Swinconeck for Your Town
Korean War veteran Leo Agnew of Clinton, commander of the Massachusetts division of the Order of the Purple Heart, displays one of his medals.

Westborough has become the second community in Massachusetts to proclaim itself a “Purple Heart Town,” joining nearby Clinton in recognizing those who were wounded or killed in combat for their country.

“The people of the Town of Westborough have great admiration and the utmost gratitude for all the men and women who have selflessly served their country and this community in the Armed Forces,” stated a July 9 proclamation supported unanimously by the Board of Selectmen.

Purple Heart Town designations have been adopted by communities across the United States as part of an effort by a national veterans group, the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Members of the Massachusetts branch are now looking for more communities to adopt the designation as a way to honor military personnel wounded or killed in combat. There is no cost to the community, and no requirements to post Purple Heart signs or plaques.

In addition to recognizing Aug. 7 as Purple Heart Day, “all we ask is that they provide a proclamation honoring … those who shed their blood during all wars,” said Leo Agnew of Clinton, commander of the Massachusetts division of the Order of the Purple Heart.

Agnew said a Purple Heart Town proclamation is a cost-free alternative to designating a Purple Heart highway or trail.

There are about 150 Purple Heart cities and towns throughout the country, according to the Purple Heart Magazine, which is published by the order.

Denny Drewry, a Westborough selectman and member of the order, said the group’s goal is to get as many communities signed on to be a Purple Heart Town in Massachusetts as possible.

Both Drewry and Agnew are putting together a strategy for approaching managers and selectmen in other communities to adopt the Purple Heart Town moniker. Agnew said communities including Boxford, Topsfield, and Northborough have signaled interest in adopting the designation.

Westborough Town Manager Jim Malloy said the designation means “that we’re recognizing the sacrifice of people who are Purple Heart recipients, and their families.”

Drewry and Malloy said the town is trying to collect the names of all of Westborough’s Purple Heart recipients, in hopes that veterans services agencies could use the information to provide assistance. Drewry said he would also like to recognize and honor the men and women on such a list on a future Purple Heart Day in Westborough.

Clinton selectmen voted to become a Purple Heart Town on May 1, said Town Administrator Michael Ward. “Clinton is a very big veterans town,” Ward said. “We have a lot of people who have served and given their lives from Clinton. … Clinton is very proud to be the first.”

The Purple Heart is awarded to those serving in the armed forces who are wounded or killed in combat. According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, the Purple Heart is one of the most recognized medals in the armed forces. It was introduced by George Washington as the Badge of Military Merit in 1782.

Drewry, who was a paratrooper and member of the Army’s Special Forces, was awarded the Purple Heart after being wounded in the Vietnam War. “It’s not like anyone goes out with the intention of getting a Purple Heart, but to receive it is quite an honor,” said Drewry.

Agnew was an Airborne pathfinder in the Korean War who was decorated three times after being wounded in 1950, 1951, and 1952. “The first time it was gunfire,” he said. “The second was mortar rounds, and the third time was gunfire.”

Agnew said he doesn’t “think too much” about his status as a Purple Heart recipient. “It’s an honor, it’s prestigious, but you couldn’t buy a cup of coffee with it,” he said. What’s important to him, Agnew said, are the opportunities the Military Order of the Purple Heart provides for veterans, including scholarships and fundraising.

Agnew said he left the Army in 1960, but said he didn’t join the Order of the Purple Heart until 2005. Agnew said younger veterans of Afghanistan and Iraq shouldn’t wait as long to join veterans organizations. “If you don’t join something and become part of it, 20 years from now you won’t have anyone in Washington fighting for your rights,” he said.

Contact John Swinconeck at johnswinc@gmail.com. Follow @johnswinc on Twitter.

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