Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post 7017 in Denham Springs was officially named a “Purple Heart Post” during its regular meeting on Tuesday, July 13.
The honor was presented by Albert Cusimano, state surgeon for the VFW Department of Louisiana.
“This is one of the greatest honors we can have,” said Carl Kurnish, commander of Post 7017. “This is an opportunity to honor the veterans who were wounded in a war, died in a war. It’s just a way to give back to them.”
Introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by General George Washington in 1782, the Purple Heart is the nation’s oldest military award, according to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.
It is the first American service award made available to the common soldier and is specifically awarded to any member of the Armed Forces wounded or killed in combat with a declared enemy of the United States, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.
During the meeting, Kurnish read a proclamation designating Post 7017 as a Purple Heart Post to honor all combat veterans in the state of Louisiana. He later said the local post is one of a handful in the state that have received “Purple Heart” status.
Kurnish along with Vance Sutton, adjutant for Post 7017, then signed the resolution.
To commemorate the occasion, Kurnish invited a local Purple Heart winner to speak to the group, though finding one wasn’t easy.
“Purple Heart winners are the hardest people to find because they very seldom talk about it,” Kurnish said before introducing Gene Gilchrist, of Walker.
Gilchrist said he received his medal for injuries suffered during the Vietnam War. Gilchrist, who served in the Marine Corps from 1961-66, was injured in 1965 when a punji stake pierced his foot.
“Those stakes would be really camouflaged,” Gilchrist said. “You had to really be looking to see them.”
The injury occurred around 5:30 p.m. one Saturday, but Gilcrhist said he wasn’t taken away for treatment “for hours.”
“I couldn’t put the boot back on it, it swelled that fast,” Gilchrist said with a laugh. “Luckily it all turned out fine.”
VFW Post 7017 in Denham Springs is responsible for the city’s only official Memorial Day service, which has been held for the last dozen years at Evergreen Memorial Park Mausoleum behind Seale Funeral Home. The post also takes part in the “Buddy Poppy” fundraiser to raise money for veterans assistance programs, something members also do for Veterans Day.