Purple Heart awarded after 95 years for service in WWI

By Denise Coffey - Staff Writer
Putnam - posted Mon., Feb. 3, 2014
U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney and Micah Welintukonis present the medal and citation to Harvey Stevens' son and daughter. Photos by D. Coffey.
U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney and Micah Welintukonis present the medal and citation to Harvey Stevens' son and daughter. Photos by D. Coffey.

U.S. Rep. Joseph Courtney (D-2) bent over the wheelchair of William Stevens as he presented him with a Purple Heart medal for his father’s service in World War I. The posthumous award to Harvey M. Stevens was more than 95 years in the making. The ceremony brought more than 50 family members to Matulaitis Nursing Home in Putnam.

Pvt. Harvey Stevens was injured in France in October 1918. One month later, the Great War came to an end. Stevens returned home and raised a family. William Stevens and Phyllis Thurlow are his only living children. It was a long-held hope of William’s to get the medal for his father.

Thurlow’s son Carl offered to help when he learned of his uncle’s wishes. “He gave me a box of paperwork and every detail that you could possibly have was in it,” Thurlow said. He went to John Kerry’s office with it first, but when he was named Secretary of State, he brought the paperwork to Courtney’s office. “I knew he was very good with veterans,” Thurlow said. “Eight months later, we got it.”

The delay probably had more to do with changes in law and office personnel than anything. George Washington established the Military Badge of Merit, the precursor to the Purple Heart, in 1782. It wasn’t until 1932 that the Purple Heart was revived. For many years, it was not awarded posthumously. 

Constituent Service Representative Ryan McKenna helped secure the medal for the Stevens family. He said that because the documents were complete and in order, the process went fairly smoothly. “There was no documentation for so many of these guys,” he said. “Paperwork was all handwritten. You had to keep that piece of paper on your person. If it got wet or damaged, you couldn’t prove you were injured in battle.”

Stevens’ records were crystal clear, however. Even though it was WWI, the records show that shrapnel went through his arm. “That was an open and shut case,” McKenna said.

Thurlow is happy that the medal is finally with the family. “I read the casualty reports,” he said. “This was trench warfare. They went through hell for nearly two months.”

Sgt. 1st Class Micah Welintukonis and Sgt. Greg Caron came to the ceremony at the invitation of Courtney. Both men are Purple Heart recipients. Welintukonis woke up in coma in Walter Reed two weeks after getting injured. Caron lost both legs while on tour in Afghanistan. “It’s an honor and a pleasure to be here to see the family receive it,” Welintukonis said.

“Our family is very military-oriented,” Thurlow said. A poster with photographs of nine family members, their branch and dates of service stood by the podium where Courtney spoke. “He never talked a lot about his service. I’m happy. Grandpa deserved it. He got it,” said Thurlow.

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