LAWTON, OK (KSWO) - Dozens of local Purple Heart recipients gathered in Lawton Wednesday for the unveiling of a new monument in their honor.
The monument--which honors Purple Heart recipients from all wars--was unveiled in Elmer Thomas Park. About two dozen recipients were on hand as Lawton became one of just a handful of Purple Heart cities in the state.
A ceremony was also held featuring speeches from a Purple Heart recipient from World War Two. Lawton Mayor Fred Fitch presented a proclamation, as did Retired Major General Myles Deering, who presented his proclamation on behalf of Governor Mary Fallin's office.
The purple heart is awarded to soldiers who are wounded or killed while serving.
The ceremony featured recipients from every war dating all the way back to World War Two. That includes Retired United States Army Sergeant Tomas Garcia Junior, who is now the Senior Vice Commander for the Mount Scott Chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He said he's extremely honored.
"This monument, this purple heart city, is everlasting," Garcia said. "It will last past when I'm gone it will still be here. The citizens of the city will still recognize that freedom isn't free and there is blood that is shed for the everyday things that we do."
Garcia is a purple heart recipient who served in Iraq in 2006.
"Our convoy got ambushed in Balad, Iraq that year," Garcia said. "My truck got hit by an IED and also we were ambushed by enemy gunfire and I was struck with a bullet, along with my driver. We were both struck in the head with a bullet."
Garcia is now one of the leaders of the local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a group only open to Purple Heart recipients that meets once a month. He said that group has helped him become the man he is today.
"You don't come back the same after an event like that," Garcia said. "You struggle with PTSD and a lot of emotions but being a part of this organization really helps out because you know that the person next to you, your brother, your other Purple Heart brother, has gone through something similar and it makes it easier to talk about."
Garcia said he and all of his fellow Purple Heart recipients are thrilled that the City of Lawton is now one of just five purple heart cities in the state of Oklahoma.
"The city is giving back and honoring those who have paid the ultimate sacrifice," Garcia said. "Those that gave some, and some that gave all. We really hold that dearly to our heart for the community to do that for us."
Garcia said there are more than 200 members of the local chapter of the Order of the Purple Heart but that they are always looking to get in touch with more Purple Heart recipients in our area. If you are interested in getting involved, they hold their meetings the first Tuesday of each month at the American Legion on 11th Street in Lawton.