‘Sacrifice of service’
What the Purple Heart means to someone who received it
HOUGHTON — Everyone is familiar with Memorial Day, Veterans Day, and many are familiar with Armed Forces Day. But there is another holiday — one that is just as important — that many may not be aware of: Purple Heart Day.
Observed on the day of its creation, Purple Heart Day falls on August 7th each year. It gives an opportunity for the nation to pause and acknowledge the sacrifices made by the brave members of our military. In the Copper Country, one such man who understands those sacrifices is Joseph A. Tormala, retired veteran of the U.S. Marine Corps and the U.S. Army, who received the Purple Heart after having been wounded in combat more than a dozen times, in four combat zones.
Tormala is now the Department Americanism Officer for the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Michigan, and the award is far more than just a medal to him.
“To me it is the greatest symbol of sacrifice in America,” said Tormala. “For those friends who are killed in combat who earn a Purple Heart, for the ultimate sacrifice of their lives — so that you can live free — you never take life for granted. You value each day as a gift and never forget them and their heroic service to America.”
Tormala said no one wants to earn a Purple Heart, even though the deadly risks of serving in combat are known.
“You really don’t think about being wounded,” he said. “You rely on your training and leadership to overcome the most horrific situations, and prevail.”
Of all of the military awards a soldier must be recommended for, he said, the Purple Heart is the only one, awarded upon suffering wounds in combat. The Purple Heart is awarded for the first wound received, he said. Although throughout his military career he suffered 14 wounds, he received only the one Purple Heart for his first wound.
While he regards the Purple Heart as the greatest symbol of sacrifice in America, it is in being a veteran where responsibility to others originates.
“Those of us who served in combat,” said Tormala, “carry the responsibility of sharing our history of America; t, which has been bought with human lives, who were called to serve something far bigger than themselves.”
Tormala served in four combat zones. He has been a Veterans Advocate through multiple service organizations over the past 29 years, he said, where his fellow brothers and sisters in arms spend the rest of their lives making the way for Veterans easier, after being discharged from the military.
“Every Veteran benefit we have in society,” he said “is thanks to the Veterans who served before us and advocated for legislation that improved the lives of all who served.”
On Nov. 9, 2019, Newsweek published an article titled, “Veterans ‘Uncomfortable’ With Thank You for your Support This Veterans Day.” The article was based on a poll commissioned by the Cohen Veterans Network that said 49 percent of active and former members of the Armed Forces feel uneasy with the expression “Thank you for you service.” Tormala is not among that minority.
“I personally appreciate someone who says ‘Thanks for your service,'” he said. “You’re welcome is my reply. Honor and appreciation has been earned by anyone who served in the Armed Forces honorably. Some preserved the peace at home and abroad and some served in operations and times of war. You don’t get to choose; superiors direct you to your mission ,and all who served in the U.S. military gave some and some who served gave all.”
America needs the Army, Marines, Navy, Air Force, Coast Guard and Space Force to ensure our National Defense, said Tormala.
“Generally, only about 2.5 million people out of 300 million people serve in the U.S. military,” he pointed out.
On May 18, 2022, for the second year in a row, Tormala sent a request to Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to proclaim Aug. 7 as Purple Heart Day in Michigan. It is a badge of courage and sacrifice with a history as old as the nation itself.
On Aug. 7, 1782, Gen. George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit to honor enlisted soldiers of the Continental Army. Today this honor is known as the Purple Heart. The honor was only presented to enlisted soldiers who had performed a “singularly meritorious action,” officials said. Only a handful of these were awarded, and following the American Revolution, the Badge of Military Merit did not become a permanent fixture among the various other awards and decorations given to those who serve.
The Badge of Military Merit would be honored again in 1932, when the Purple Heart award was created to honor the bicentennial of Washington’s birthday. World War I saw the first Purple Hearts awarded to soldiers. Those were presented on the site of the final encampment of the Continental Army in Windsor, New York. The Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) was formed in 1932. It is composed exclusively of men and women who have received the Purple Heart and is the only veterans service organization with only “combat” veterans as members. It is estimated that more than a million Purple Hearts have been awarded and there are about 45,000 MOPH members today.