PORT ANGELES — The Purple Heart sat dusty and undisturbed for nearly five decades, a forgotten memento of blood shed in the jungles of Vietnam.
The man who earned the medal — Jim Bower, owner of Bower Logging Inc. of Port Angeles — rediscovered it recently and put it on display in his office.
“I hadn’t dug [the Purple Heart] out in 50 years,” Bower said following the regional Veterans Day ceremony Friday morning in a hangar at U.S. Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles.
When asked why the Purple Heart had sat undisturbed for so long, Bower replied, “The business of life, I guess.”
Up to about 1,200 veterans, law enforcement personnel, active duty military members and civilians attended the ceremony, during which various choral groups sang patriotic songs and the Port Angeles High School Band performed the theme songs for each branch of the U.S. armed forces.
Bower served in the 1st Infantry Division — a U.S. Army unit known as “The Big Red One” — from December 1965 to January 1967 during combat operations in Vietnam.
Seeing the military decoration for the first time recently stirred the curiosity of Bower’s grandson, 6-year-old Harris, who “wanted to know what it was, so I told him what it was,” Bower said, the medal pinned to his chest.
It is important to tell youths about those who have served and what it cost, Bower said, “to remind them of our heritage, [and] the men that went before us to form this country.”
When Harris asked his grandfather if he could have the medal, Bower said he could, but not until he is older.
Bower was mum on the circumstances as to why he received the medal, saying only that “you have to shed blood, I’ll just say that.”
Tales such as Bower’s have the ability to inspire and sow appreciation for veterans, said Cmdr. Mark Hiigel, commanding officer of Coast Guard Air Station/Sector Field Office Port Angeles, during the ceremony.
Hiigel said that for him, it was an old bugle that sparked a conversation about his great-grandfather’s service in a medical unit during World War I.
Hiigel brought that bugle to the ceremony, a model M1892 in the key of G, he said.
“It is one of the most common bugles ever made,” Hiigel said.
“There are so many available today that generically speaking … they have almost zero value. In my family, however, the worth of this particular bugle isn’t defined by monetary value,” he said.
“What makes this bugle particularly important to my family is that it was carried by my great-grandfather … in World War I and later used stateside during World War II.”
As a child, Hiigel said he recalled his great-grandfather “showing me how to play this bugle, and I must admit he was much better than I. He would tell me stories of camaraderie and bravery of his friends and fellow soldiers as they helped attend to the wounded.”
One of the most difficult duties for his grandfather, Hiigel said, was playing the taps bugle call for soldiers who were killed in battle.
“What hit most home for him was losing friends in his unit,” Hiigel said.
“As a medical unit, they weren’t immune from taking fire. For the particular times that he was required to play for the lost personnel in his unit, he took the time to etch a mark … for each person he played for. On the side of this bugle, there are 26 marks running down the side,” each representing “soldiers who gave their last full measure of devotion to sacrifice for our country. To this day, I wish I knew more about these 26 [men].”
Hiigel called on the attending veterans to share their legacy with their friends, loved ones and even strangers.
“Take a moment” to share stories “with a trusted friend or perhaps a new acquaintance,” he said.
“Talk to them in terms of service that perhaps transpires beyond oneself,” Hiigel said.
“Inspire … young minds to understand terms like honor, respect and devotion to duty. Make the link palpable from past to present, like my grandfather did for me so many years ago.”
Chris Cummings, a civilian living in Port Angeles, said that instilling in youths an appreciation for veterans is why he brought his 6-year-old son, Mason, to witness the ceremony.
“My father served in the Navy and my brother served in the Army, so it is a chance to show” Mason appreciation for their service and the service of others, Cummings said.
“It is important to remember them and to be able to honor our veterans. It is an important part of our country.”
Said guest speaker Richard T. Gromlich, retired rear admiral with the Coast Guard: “As we celebrate our veterans today, it is also important to honor our active-duty service members” who will become the veterans of the future.
“Today, our military members around the world continue to put service before self. They proudly serve to ensure the freedoms we enjoy today. I couldn’t be more proud of the men and women who serve today. They are the best of best.”
To mark the centennial of aviation, a specially painted rescue helicopter sat outside the hangar on static display during and after the ceremony. It is painted yellow to represent the chrome yellow paint scheme that Coast Guard and Navy helicopters used in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
Aviation in the Coast Guard began April 1, 1916, when 3rd Lt. Elmer Stone reported to flight training in Pensacola, Fla.
Features Editor Chris McDaniel can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56650, or at [email protected].