Oliver Hickok is a two-time Purple Heart recipient. He was injured twice in the Vietnam War.READ MORE: Wreath-Laying Ceremony At NYC Vietnam Veterans Memorial Honors Purple Heart Recipients
“We just went through the night, and I survived,” he told CBS2’s Natalie Duddridge.
Hickok was one of 50 veterans invited to tour the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor. He was chosen to represent New York.
“It’s good to be here, but I don’t like thinking back to those moments,” he said.
Purple Hearts are awarded to servicemen and women who are wounded or killed. The site in New Windsor is the first in the nation dedicated to commemorating them.
Edward Gerasimowicz is representing New Jersey.
“I was hit with shrapnel in both legs, and I shot in the back of my right leg. I’m here today. I’m not strong, but I’m here,” he said.
He was evacuated to a hospital and cared for by combat nurses like Edie Meeks, who is still haunted by memories.
“We had one fellow come in. He looked like he was a football player. He had lost two legs and an arm,” she said.
Seeing the Purple Heart recipients Wednesday brought her some sense of comfort.READ MORE: ‘Kites Over The Hudson’ Draws Visitors To George Washington’s Headquarters, 1st Publicly Owned Historic Site
“I see that these guys had good lives after, you know, and it helps me to deal with everything that you have to deal with,” she said. “And you wish you could’ve saved them all.”
On their next stop, veterans traveled to George Washington’s headquarters in Newburgh, considered the birthplace of the Purple Heart.
Washington lived there in 1782 and created the Badge of Military Merit. In 1932, it officially became what’s now known as the Purple Heart.
Connie Johnson is one of only a few hundred female recipients.
She was deployed to Iraq in 2003.
“I was actually a gunner in one of the gun turrets when our convoy was targeted by an IED explosion. I took shrapnel to the back of my neck. It was a quarter of an inch away from my artery, and the only thing that saved my life is I was looking the other way,” she said.
Now, Johnson looks to her fellow Purple Heart brothers and sisters for support and camaraderie.
The group made up of multiple generations has lived through the unthinkable.
“I hope we don’t have to have another war,” Hickok said.
All they ask is that their sacrifices are never forgotten.MORE NEWS: World War II Hero’s Long Lost Purple Heart Returned To Hometown On Long Island
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is open to all visitors Tuesday through Sunday. For more information, visit thepurpleheart.com.