Forty-Eight Stars and a Purple Heart

Dr. Donna L. Roberts

America was not built on fear. America was built on courage, on imagination and an unbeatable determination to do the job at hand. - Harry S. Truman
By D. Myles Cullen - This image was released by the United States Air Force with the ID 081117-F-019

“Grandma”, I said excitedly, “look at the pretty purple pin I found!”

It was a rainy afternoon and I was rifling through the closet in search of something interesting when I found this unique item. Purple was my favorite color as a child, so this particular prize caught my eye right away.

Grandma gently took the newly discovered treasure from my little hands. She stared at it for a long moment and then looked at me wistfully.

“Don’t you think it’s pretty, Grandma?” I said hesitantly, picking up on something in her gaze.

“Well, yes, it’s pretty, but it’s also very special,” she said as she took my hand and led me to our special place – a big Quaker style rocking chair where she spent many hours neglecting housework in favor of cuddling me.

“This is a very special treasure,” Grandma began. “It’s a Purple Heart medal from the Army of the United States. It was given in honor of Grandpa’s brother, James.”

“Did I ever meet James, Grandma?”

“No, he died before you were born. James was very brave. He fought in a very long war, very far away. And he died there. They gave this medal to his mother after he died so she would know how brave he was.”

“She must have been sad, Grandma.”

“Well, yes, she was very sad, but she was also very proud. She was proud because he was courageous and he died fighting for America, so that all of us can be safe and free.”

“I’m proud too Grandma. Can I keep this, to remember James?”

“Yes, but remember it’s not a toy.”

That night I put the medal on my dresser and I included James in my bedtime prayers.

About a week later Grandma brought me a folded up American flag. “Keep this with the medal,” she instructed. “it was the flag that they put on James’ coffin. American soldiers have a flag draped on their casket to honor their service.”

I kept the flag and the medal on my dresser until I moved away from that childhood home. I packed it up with the rest of my belongings and headed to Europe, where I worked in the education centers on military bases.

When I had an office of my own to decorate, I decided to display James’ flag, I carefully unfolded the beautiful fabric. As I looked at the familiar stars and stripes, it seemed something was off. I couldn’t place it right away, but it seemed different somehow. And then it hit me. The placement of the stars. Of course! PFC James T. Grieve of the 169th Infantry Regiment was killed in action on 21 January 1945 on Luzon Island, at a time when the American flag had 48 stars – 6 perfect rows of 8 gleaming white stars. 48 reasons why James gave his life so that I, and others, could enjoy the freedoms to which we have become accustomed.

As I proudly hung that flag on my wall, I whispered, “Thank you for your service, James.”

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Writer and university professor researching media psych, generational studies, addiction psychology, human and animal rights, and the intersection of art and psychology.

Canandaigua, NY

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