WW II vet receives Purple Heart 70 years later
It took Russell Rodgers less time to create what he called a blessed life that now includes great-grandchildren, than it took for him to receive his Purple Heart.
Rodgers, private first class in the 101st Airborne, 502nd, that fought in the Battle of the Bulge, finally felt the heft that a Purple Heart adds to a jump jacket on Saturday, surrounded by family and friends.
“I am still having trouble sleeping,” the 92-year-old said. “Every time I try to sleep I see all of the people there. I never expected any of this. It is so overwhelming.”
It wasn’t until about two months ago that Rodgers’ daughter, Debbie Prioiello, received word that her father would be receiving his Purple Heart after 70 years.
Family flew in from all around the country including Tennessee and Colorado to watch Rodgers, proudly wearing his flight jacket, receive his medal.
“My brothers and I feel this is long over due,” Prioiello said. “This was something we didn’t want to just hand to him. We wanted to make it special. We are very proud of him.”
Recovering records allegedly lost in a fire in Chicago and seeing an amendment in Congress to Purple Heart regulations were the final thumbs up for Rodgers’ injuries to be recognized.
Fighting the Germans in the frozen forests of the Ardennes in Bastogne, Rodgers received severe frostbite, earning him nearly three months in an English hospital and almost costing him both of his feet.
“It was such an emotional day,” Prioiello said. “This was a long time coming.”
The Airborne runs strong in Rodgers’ family, his own grandson, Army Sgt. First Class Russell Rodgers is a Green Beret.
His granddaughter, Kelsey Sedell is a staff sergeant in the 101st as a flight paramedic and her husband is also with the 101st in the infantry in pilot training.
Rodgers’ namesake did the honoring of pinning him at the celebration.
“I told him that I was going to be crying all day,” Rodgers said about the conversation he shared with his grandson. “Having him pin me was so awesome.”
The Purple Heart was not the only award that came from the discovery of Rodgers’ misplaced records.
He was also presented with the Presidential Unit Citation for the 101st’s involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, the Belgian Fourragere for the unit’s bravery during World War II, and the Dutch Lanyard or Military William Order for the liberation of the Dutch people.
“I joined the Airborne to see if they were crazy or brave and I’ve learned that they are both. Being a part of them is a dream come true for me when I thought I wouldn’t even get into the military,” Rodgers said. “I did what I had always so desperately wanted to. This is just icing on the cake, to be awarded this. I was just doing what I absolutely wanted to.”