Hudson Valley Museum Honors Purple Heart Recipients
Soldiers: A statue pays tribute to soldiers who fought in the Battle of the Bulge in World War II.
Hall of Honor: The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor pays tribute to soldiers who were injured or killed in service to our nation.
Tucked in a corner a little over 12 miles away from the U.S. Military Academy in West Point, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor commemorates those who have been awarded the military decoration known as the Purple Heart. The distinction is typically given to veterans who were either injured or gave their lives in combat. Some of the veterans with Purple Heart medals are renowned political figures. Former Secretary of State and presidential candidate John Kerry has three, President John F. Kennedy, Sen. Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), and former Kansas Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole are among those who received awards for their sacrifice.
History Behind the Heart
Temple Hill in New Windsor, the site of the final encampment of George Washington’s Continental Army in 1782, was also the site of the first Purple Heart ceremony 150 years later. During this ceremony, 137 World War I veterans received the merit-based award. Prior to the ceremony, the award started out as a merit-based badge given to enlisted men who fought during the Revolutionary War. The Continental Congress at the time forbade military awards of merit, but General George Washington believed in honoring merit, so the Badge of Military Merit was established. Over time, the award was largely forgotten about, but the aftermath of the First World War prompted legendary General Douglas MacArthur to resurrect the award to both honor the soldiers and the legacy of George Washington. To this end, the award was given to those who were injured but still living after fighting in the Civil War and other conflicts since. It was eventually given posthumously to those who died in battle.
Sometime during the mid-1990s, a letter to the editor appeared in what is now the New Windsor Sentinel, explaining the historical significance of the New Windsor area in the establishment of the Purple Heart and why a museum needed to be there. The letter caught the attention of the newspaper’s publisher, then-New York Governor George Pataki and State Senator Bill Larkin. More than a million dollars was raised by the state government to build the museum, which is connected strategically to a site commemorating the Revolutionary War encampment, known as the New Windsor Cantonment State Historic Site. “When people come here, they learn more about our military history,” said Peter Bedrossian, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor’s program director. “If you don’t make a point of showcasing the history, people don’t understand.”
For many veterans and their families, the trek through the Hall of Honor evokes both triumphant and solemn memories. The exhibits at the museum, which were overhauled in 2015, capture the struggles of war throughout generations. Bedrossian knows all too well the importance of preserving these memories, as he is a descendant from a long line of veterans. He has a 200-year history of veterans in his family who fought in wars ranging from the French and Indian War to Korea.
“If you go back to any of America’s wars, there’s support for those who go away,” he said, “but when they come back, they’re overlooked. As a nation, we have short memories. One of the jobs I have is for me to say ‘thank you’ every day.”
Exhibits include a photographic history time line, which shows images of conflict from World War I to the War on Terror, timeline interactive touchscreens featuring stories from battle and a silent video tribute with quotes from Purple Heart recipients. Visitors can also check out an electronic database of Purple Heart recipients. While there is no comprehensive national record available of recipients, as there have been nearly two million awardees, the museum collects information on recipients through extensive research and requests from loved ones to include someone in the database.
One of the surprises Bedrossian and others uncovered in doing research is that singer Lenny Kravitz’s uncle, who bears his name, received a Purple Heart posthumously after killing a number of enemy soldiers and losing his life in the process. Bedrossian enjoys highlighting this fact when directing visitors to the database. Another highlight is a statue of three soldiers in World War II. The figures are symbolic and not based on any particular soldier, as the statue is meant to represent the conflict during the iconic Battle of the Bulge.
A Safe Place
Visitors to the Hall of Honor are often veterans themselves. Bedrossian explains how their visits have special meaning. “People come here to tell their story, and sometimes I wish I had a tape recorder,” he said. “For some, it’s a catharsis. Veterans have explained that this is a safe place.” One veteran’s story of losing his friend, a Nigerian immigrant who fought in the Army during Operation Iraqi Freedom, is displayed in the museum’s main exhibition gallery. According to Bedrossian, Sergeant Richard Gerbeth, Jr., said upon viewing his story and a photo of his deceased friend, Specialist Segun Akintade, “I can see him whenever I want now.”
General admission and parking to the museum are free, but group visits have a rate of $3.00 per person, with a 10-person minimum. Groups can either be comprised of adult visitors or a school group. Groups may be booked between 10:00 a.m. and 3:30 p.m., Tuesday through Saturday, and between 1:00 p.m. and 3:30 p.m. on Sundays. General museum hours are 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, and 1:00 p.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Sundays.
If you are a veteran, close to someone who is currently serving or has received a Purple Heart, a military enthusiast, or simply a proud American, you will gain valuable knowledge of the history and sacrifices of the U.S. military. The experience is worth the trip.
To learn more about the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, visit ThePurpleHeart.com online.