Soldier Receives Purple Heart After 60 Year Wait

Clifford L. Land received the Purple Heart for wounds he received during hostile enemy fire while stationed in Korea from April 3, 1952 to April 15, 1954 from Lt. Col. Craig S. Besaw. (Jason B. Cutshaw/U.S. Army)
Clifford L. Land received the Purple Heart for wounds he received during hostile enemy fire while stationed in Korea from April 3, 1952 to April 15, 1954 from Lt. Col. Craig S. Besaw. (Jason B. Cutshaw/U.S. Army)

REDSTONE ARSENAL, Ala.  -- After more than 60 years, one Soldier is receiving an overdue Purple Heart he earned during the Korean War.

Cpl. Clifford L. Land was awarded a Purple Heart during a ceremony hosted at the U.S. Army Space and Missile Defense Command/Army Forces Strategic Command headquarters at Redstone Arsenal Dec. 22 for wounds he received during hostile enemy fire while stationed in Korea from April 3, 1952 to April 15, 1954.

"This is amazing, I can hardly believe it," Land said. "It is a big surprise. I had given up receiving this years ago. I am speechless."

Land was born in Athens, Alabama, in 1932 and moved to Huntsville when he was 14. On Dec. 17, 1951, he volunteered to join the Army, and from there he spent nine months in Fort Hood, Texas with the 16th Engineering Group building bridges.

Shortly after, Land volunteered to go to Korea. When he left the states he arrived in Tokyo and three weeks later Land started training to become a medical technician chief. Four weeks later, he arrived in Osan, Korea, and from there he rode a train for two days to Seoul.

Land served 14 months in the Medical Corps with the 40th Infantry Division in Korea as a medical technician chief driving ambulances and taking care of wounded Soldiers. It was during this time that he was wounded during a mortar attack.

"I was pretty young," Land said. "We were in this tent that was an aide station and I saw all these guys laying there, hurting, with their arms blown off and I didn't think I deserved the medal, so I told them I didn't want it then."

After the war, Land spent his last nine months in the Army stationed in North Carolina and was discharged April 3, 1954.

After his military service, Land went to work on Redstone Arsenal where he retired in 1980 from civil service from the United States Army Missile and Munitions Center and School, Army Ballistic Materiel branch, where he built homemade bombs and then taught Soldiers and police officers how to disarm them.

"I am proud of this," Land said. "All of my family is here. I am just proud to be here. I can't believe it."

The ceremony was attended by members of the Huntsville and Madison Purple Heart Association. Leonard Robinson, Military Order of the Purple Heart of Alabama's commander and twice awarded the Purple Heart with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam, was there to induct Land into the organization.

"The Purple Heart is a symbol," Robinson said. "It is an award that only people in a combat zone can receive and so that makes it very special to all of us no matter which conflict the recipient was in.

"It is a great honor to be involved with a presentation of the Purple Heart," he added. "The recipients are joining our brotherhood and sisterhood so it is an honor to be able to help present the award."

Also in attendance was retired Lt. Col. Jeff Wishik, a Distinguished Service Cross and Purple Heart recipient with the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

"It is always an honor to participate in a Purple Heart ceremony because you know the sacrifice that the individual has gone through, not only for him and his buddies, but also for his country," Wishik said. "It is a special opportunity for every one of us to participate in when we can. It is wonderful that we can recognize him, some 60 years later for his sacrifice.

"Being here does bring back a special emotion I think that all of us who wear the Purple Heart have. It was a wonderful ceremony and I was really appreciative of the attendance, not only by the family, but by the headquarters and all those who have helped put this together," Wishik added. "This is a special memory that he will have forever and his family will too."

With Land finally receiving his Purple Heart, one family member who has been working for more than four years with government officials to make this happen, was there to finally see this day.

"This is really exciting," said Land's son Bobby, USASMDC/ARSTRAT Technical Center information assurance manager. "When I got the e-mail saying it had been approved and was being mailed to my address, I am not going to lie, I broke down like a little school girl who had just had her first boyfriend break up with her. I was sitting there bawling because I have worked so hard and been told 'No' so many times."

Bobby said that although the process may have taken a while, it was worth all the struggle to make this day happen.

"Just knowing my dad, it was a 'Thank You,' shocked, emotional moment," Bobby said. "When I first heard the stories, he said there were his friends who were missing limbs and he told the officials there that he didn't deserve a Purple Heart and later he said he should have accepted it then.

"I am proud to have him as my dad. It is just a privilege to see him honored," he added. "To see the excitement of others has made me realize this is probably something more significant than I had thought."

The Purple Heart is the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and the first American award made available to the common Soldier. It is awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.

The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by Gen. George Washington by order from his headquarters at Newburgh on Aug. 7, 1782.

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