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Keokuk Veteran Receives Purple Heart -- 65+ Years Later

Jason Parrott
David Harrison of Keokuk poses with his Purple Heart and his three service medals. He was injured in 1950 while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War.

David Harrison of Keokuk was just 18 when he broke his leg while serving in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. More than 65 years later, he’s being honored for that service to his country.

Harrison was awarded the Purple Heart during a special ceremony at the American Legion Post 47 in Keokuk Tuesday evening. The Purple Heart is awarded to a soldier who is wounded in action.

Harrison said his injury happened when he and other soldiers were unloading an artillery gun. The soldiers came under enemy fire.

“They got to shooting at us,” said Harrison. “Everyone ducked and it just fell on me.”

When the gun fell on Harrison, it broke his leg. He initially refused to get in the ambulance because he said there were other soldiers who were in greater need of medical treatment.

Harrison said he served in the Army from 1949-1951. Even though he qualified for the Purple Heart, he said he never pursued it.

That would have been the end of it had it not been for a couple of Harrison’s long-time friends, including Arthur Vradenburg of Keokuk. Vradenburg said they started working this sprng to get Harrison his Purple Heart.

“I think he deserved it,” said Vradenburg. “I mean, he was injured. I was in the service and I think he deserved it because he was injured and no one offered it to him.”

Vradenburg said the effort started with a call to the office of U.S. Senator Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) to find out what they needed to do. After finding out how to apply and who to send the application to, Vradenburg said Harrison’s friends started collecting his military and medical records.

Vradenburg said it took a couple attempts to get everything right, but eventually Harrison was added to the waiting list. Vradenburg said that was not good enough, though.

“We sent back and said he does not have that much time,” said Vradenburg. “Because he has a pacemaker… and he’s on oxygen 24 hours a day.”

Harrison’s age and health concerns eventually moved him to the top of the list.

He said he learned he would be receiving the Purple Heart when he got a letter in the mail. He also learned at that time he would be receiving three other medals.

  • Korean Service Medal
  • United Nations Service Medal
  • National Defense Service Medal

Harrison said he knew he qualified for one of them but not all three. The three service medals were presented to Harrison in a small, framed case while the Purple Heart and an accompanying certificate had their own case.
After receiving his medals, Harrison posed for pictures with family and friends Tuesday night.

Harrison thanked his friends for helping him receive his medals, adding that he really liked them. He said he hopes others can experience that same feeling.

“I hope some of the other guys get theirs… like I did.”

Jason Parrott is a former reporter at Tri States Public Radio.