In August 1950, Cpl. Joe Hutchison was wounded by shrapnel while serving his country in the Korean War. He was treated on the battlefield and went right back to work.
It was an act worthy of a Purple Heart — but that Purple Heart never came.
Hutchison, who enlisted in the Army in 1948 and is now in his 80s, was awarded his Purple Heart on Tuesday afternoon at the Parker Community Center. Along with speeches by Hutchison and others, a tribute display featured pictures of the Army corporal during his service. A standing-room-only crowd attended the ceremony, including family members, Parker residents, local military representatives and Rep. Gwen Graham, D-Tallahassee. Seeing the huge crowd gave Hutchison a good feeling.
“You feel really honored,” he said. “I have all you could give.”
The belated recognition came about through Hutchison's neighbor George Nepereny, who found out after talking to the veteran that despite his wartime injuries, he had received no Purple Heart. When he tried digging into Hutchison's medical records, Nepereny found out they had been lost in a fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, records of many veterans discharged from the Army and Air Force were lost in the blaze.
Nepereny set about helping Hutchison get his military records sorted out, and through contacts in the community and state, pieced together the puzzle and arranged Tuesday's ceremony.
“He's hard-working, salt of the earth,” Nepereny said of his neighbor, who he has known for 15 years. “A real patriot.”
Nepereny added the country is losing its veterans who are getting older and dying.
“We should honor them. They deserve it,” he said.
In June 1950, Hutchison, then part of the 5th Infantry Regimental Combat Team, was deployed to Korea to aid United Nations forces against the North Korean Army. After he fought through his injuries on the battlefield, he continued training and was scheduled for reassignment to Korea before armistice was reached. Although he went several decades with no Purple Heart, he did receive three battle stars and a Combat Infantry Badge, and his unit was awarded a Presidential Unit Citation.
At Tuesday's ceremony, Dawn Hutchison described her uncle as a humble man who doesn't talk much about his war experiences, tears gradually coming to her eyes as she spoke. She said he was “honored” by the event.
The turnout was overwhelming and humbling to Parker Mayor Rich Musgrave.
“It's taken 66 years to bring about today's ceremony,” Musgrave said. “And to those who think sacrifice and service to our great country is forgotten, I ask you to just look around this room.”
© 2016 The News Herald (Panama City, Fla.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.