BY SHERI TRUSTY
The Ottawa County Museum honored some of the county’s bravest residents at the 2023 National Purple Heart Day Recognition Ceremony last week at the Ottawa County Resource Center. The ceremony was the first event hosted since the museum was named a Purple Heart Museum in January.
The event, which was designed to recognize and thank the county’s Purple Heart recipients, was especially poignant for the county’s Vietnam War veterans like Marvin Haar, who was met with distain and shame when he returned home from the war.
“People got so sick of the Vietnam War that they got sick of everything that had to do with it, including us,” Haar said.
The Ottawa County Museum is part of the Purple Heart Trail, a nationwide initiative to honor Purple Heart recipients and place visual reminders of their sacrifices in public places. The museum joined the Purple Heart Trail thanks to the efforts of David Barth, who also worked with county commissioners to establish Ottawa County as a Purple Heart County in May.
“We really appreciate Dave Barth putting the work into this. It’s a great thing for the county,” said Ottawa County Commissioner Mark Coppeler, who attended the event with commissioners Mark Stahl and Donald Douglas.
The event was hosted by Barth and Ottawa County Museum Curator Peggy Debien. Debien read the names of Purple Heart recipients, who came forward and were presented a pin by Barth. Then, Barth honored the families of Purple Heart recipients who have died.
Tim Schneider, the Northwestern Ohio District Representative for Senator JD Vance, presented a proclamation and words of gratitude from the senator. Sara Toris, Director of the Ottawa County Veterans Service Office, talked about the history of the Purple Heart.
“Purple represents bravery and courage,” Toris said. “The Purple Heart is different from other awards because the person is not recommended for it. They are entitled to it for meeting certain criteria.”
Haar earned the Purple Heart while serving with the Army in Vietnam in 1968. He was acting as point man, the soldier who walks ahead of a patrol, when his platoon came under attack.
“I was hit by a Bouncing Betty,” Haar said. “It cut off some of my fingers and blew my shoulder apart.”
The helicopter that evacuated Haar and the rest of the platoon was shot down. They were picked up by a second helicopter, but his platoon sergeant, Charlie Kemp, didn’t survive the ordeal. The men were transported to the 312th Evacuation Hospital in Chu Lai where Ohio native and nurse, Sharon Lane, would later serve and die in the line of duty.
“She was a genuine hero,” Haar said.
While Haar was recovering in the hospital, the building came under rocket fire. A group of nurses hurried to cover the injured men with flak jackets as another stood guard with a rifle.
“One rocket landed close and shook the building. Dust was flying in the air, and the lights shook. This little guy said, ‘The heck with this place. Next year, I’m going somewhere nicer on vacation.’ We all started laughing,” Haar said. “I want to be with the group that laughs when the rockets come down.”
Haar survived the war and survived the trauma better than some.
“I landed on my wheels. I may have skidded off a few times, but not everyone landed on their wheels,” he said. “I had an unshakable faith in God that I did not ever lose.”
Haar was grateful so many people gathered to thank the Purple Heart recipients at the Monday,Aug. 7 ceremony. It helps heal the wounds that were inflicted after he came home from the war by people who failed to recognize the sacrifice of his service and gave him shame where he should have received gratitude.
“We outlasted the naysayers,” Haar said. “This is a good day. Today is a celebration that we outlasted those bastards.”