June 4, 2004

World War II Veteran John Martinez

Veteran Receives Purple Heart 59 Years After Paralyzing Injury

By U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Melanie Streeter

WASHINGTON, June 1, 2004 — Fifty-nine years after his plane crashed near Rheims, France, an Army Air Forces staff sergeant received his Purple Heart during a ceremony May 28 at the World War II Memorial here.

John Martinez was a staff sergeant serving with the 9th Air Force as an aerial gunner in an A-20 attack bomber April 11, 1945, when the aircraft was struck and forced out of the sky. Even though Martinez survived, he was severely injured, with lacerations and a paralyzing spinal-cord injury.

Maj. Gen. John L. Hudson presents John Martinez with a Purple Heart during a ceremony at the World War II Memorial, May 28. The presentation happened more than 59 years after the veteran’s A-20 attack bomber crashed near Rheims, France, causing a paralyzing spinal-cord injury. U.S. Air Force photo by Master Sgt. Jim Varhegyi

“Throughout its history, America has been blessed with soldiers who were ready to risk it all to fight the darkness that threatened our way of life,” said Maj. Gen. John L. Hudson, Air Force Joint Strike Fighter program director, who presented the medal to Martinez. “This is especially true of our World War II veterans, referred to by some as the ‘greatest generation.’ Staff Sergeant John Martinez is an example of one of those brave Americans who, during a time of need in our history, answered the call to fight for his country.”

The 79-year-old veteran, here for the dedication of the World War II Memorial, did not know about the presentation, which came from the efforts of his family and the Paralyzed Veterans of America.

Gen. George Washington established the Purple Heart on Aug. 7, 1782. It is awarded in the name of the president of the United States to any member of the armed forces or any citizen of the United States who, while serving with the armed services after April 5, 1917, has been wounded or killed. It is also awarded to those who have died or may die after being wounded in any action against an enemy of the United States.

While clearly an individual decoration, the Purple Heart differs from all other decorations in that an individual is not “recommended” for the decoration; rather he or she is entitled to it upon meeting specific criteria.

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