Yesterday, I had the honor of being present for Jason’s purple heart ceremony. It was such an overwhelming thing to experience.
Here’s the article from the paper in case you want to read about it.
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
Soldier wins Purple Heart
National Guard general praises local man's sacrifice
In the months since his battlefield injury, Cpl. Jason Kokotkiewicz continues to think about the soldiers he led - those who continue to face danger in Iraq. "He's a good leader who is worried about his men," said Jason's stepfather, Bob Truitt. "It has been a recurring theme ever since he got hurt: 'What about my men?'"
Maj. Gen. R. Martin Umbarger of the Indiana National Guard recognizes Jason's loyalty. Umbarger, the adjutant general for Indiana, visited Jason Monday afternoon at the Roudebush VA Medical Center in Indianapolis to present Jason the Purple Heart. He is the second wounded Hancock County veteran to receive the medal in the past month. Marine Lance Cpl. Josh Bleill, who is recovering from wounds at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C., received a Purple Heart last month from President Bush. The Purple Heart is a prestigious medal given to a soldier who has shown valor and was wounded in combat. It has a tradition that dates to 1782.
"It's an honor," Jason said of receiving the medal. "A lot of men have it, and it means a lot that they think that I am worthy." Jason was glad it was he who was injured instead of one of his men, Umbarger said. "That's the type of young men that are wearing the uniform," Umbarger said, standing near Jason. "It's a great generation." Jason, 23, was hit in the head by a rocket-propelled grenade Jan. 24 while serving as a squad leader with Company A 2/152nd Infantry of the Indiana National Guard. The RPG round crushed Jason's Kevlar helmet and part of his skull but didn't explode. After receiving care overseas and on the east coast, Jason returned home to Indiana last week. His brother, Jacob, continues to serve with the U.S. Army's 3rd Infantry Division in Iraq.
Jason's family has been amazed by his recovery. Many people in the Greenfield area have helped the family deal financially and emotionally with Jason's injury. His stepmother, Kim Truitt, said she is thankful to organizations including the local VFW and American Legion posts. "Whenever there has been a need, that need has been met," Kim Truitt said. "To me, that's God at work. God continues to have his hand in this situation." Umbarger told Jason that he has done his job, that he will continue to receive excellent care and that his fellow soldiers continue to do a great job in Iraq.
The Purple Heart is another indication that Jason's service to his country is valued, Bob Truitt said. "The Vietnam vets didn't get a good welcome," Bob Truitt said, tears welling in his eyes. "These guys deserve it." It was an honor to witness the Purple Heart ceremony, said Jason's stepsister, Elizabeth Truitt. "You wish there didn't have to be injuries, obviously, but it's just such an incredible way of recognizing these men and women who do something I can't even imagine for all of us," the 28-year-old Plainfield resident said. Jason's stepsister Amanda Rust, 30, of Greenfield, said Jason's return and military recognition are "the fulfillment of the miracle that we've been praying for - that he's still with us." Elizabeth Truitt is thankful that she can now visit Jason at the VA hospital."It's just such a huge answer to prayer," she said. "It's a comfort to know that he's within driving distance now, to be able to see him and hug him and know he's OK - it's a miracle." Jason could have been released from the VA, but chose to stay longer in order to expedite his therapy. He has no regrets about his decision to serve. "The boys were good," Jason said. "They were trained well. We were a team, you know. I'd do it again for them. I'd do it again, and I'm sure they would do it for me."
As honored as Jason was to receive the Purple Heart from Umbarger, Kim Truitt thinks the real celebration has yet to take place. "The big ceremony will be when he gets all of his buds back home and meets them at the airport," she said.