Annual banquet honors Purple Heart recipients


National Purple Heart Day is celebrated annually, Aug. 7.  The Purple Heart medal is awarded to service members wounded or killed during combat while serving in the armed forces.

Joseph Deufemia, retired Air Force chief master sergeant, recalls how he earned his Purple Heart during an unforgettable helicopter mission in Vietnam in 1968.

“I was a door gunner on the helicopter. We had some Marines [who] were pinned down in a gully. We went over the treetops and I saw the Marines on the ground.”

Deufemia added, while manning a .50-caliber machine gun, noticed one of his teammates had been shot. When they arrived at the hospital, Deufemia saw he was covered in blood, but assumed it was his teammates. The medical team began tending to Deufemia’s wounds.

“The doctor said, ‘You’re going to get a Purple Heart, Joe’ and I said ‘What’s that?’”

The Goldsboro/Wayne Purple Heart Foundation Purple Heart banquet took place Aug. 4, 2017, in Goldsboro, North Carolina. The banquet honored Purple Heart recipients, Gold Star families and post-military deceased veteran’s families.

Service members assigned to Seymour Johnson Air Force Base also attended the banquet and some volunteered to serve food during the dinner portion of the evening.

 “There are so many veterans [who] remain silent, they have nothing to say to anyone not even their families about their military service,” said Bill Graham, the Wayne County Veterans and Patriots Coalition chief executive officer and Goldsboro Purple Heart Foundation chairman of the board. “This banquet is designed to give them the opportunity to open up and talk about their experience and to enrich their families.”

Graham feels some of the recipients find it very hard to open up, some of them have just been waiting for the right opportunity.

Purple Heart recipients were also invited to attend a private gathering before the start of the banquet to take pictures and share stories.

“I appreciate all of the people that put together the Purple Heart banquet,” said Sylvania Wilkerson, retired U.S. Army member and Purple Heart recipient. “For a lot of these guys it’s the first time they get the chance to sit down with guys like them and actually talk about what they were doing when they were 18 years old.”

The banquet included a walk of honor, dinner, a reading of the Purple Heart proclamation and a keynote speech given by Kevin Hynes, Military Order of the Purple Heart Department of North Carolina adjutant.

Graham said this year’s Purple Heart Banquet seated 400 guests and sold out earlier than previous years. Next year’s banquet is planned to be held in a venue which can accommodate more than 800 guests.

“We have this banquet annually to show respect and dignity for those that sacrificed,” said Graham. “This banquet brings veterans together. We want it to grow as big as we can.”

A stone monument honoring Purple Heart recipients is scheduled to be placed at the Wayne County Veteran’s Memorial in Downtown Goldsboro in late November.
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