08/07/13 — Purple Heart recipients honored as 'real heroes'

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Purple Heart recipients honored as 'real heroes'

By Ethan Smith
Published in News on August 7, 2013 1:46 PM

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Larry Carr Jr., right, shakes the hand of Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Col. Walter J. Marm Jr. at the end of his Walk of Honor.

Throw the modern concept of the hero to the wind.

Real heroes, Michael Johnson said, are the ones less willing to talk about what makes them a hero.

"As we all know, Purple Heart veterans are not always willing to talk about what they did to earn that honor," Johnson, chair of the North Carolina Purple Heart Foundation, said to the room filled with Purple Heart recipients. "Heroes don't shoot basketballs or act in movies. The real heroes are right here in this room tonight."

The Goldsboro/Wayne Purple Heart Foundation hosted a banquet Tuesday night at the First Pentecostal Holiness Church to honor Purple Heart recipients and their families.

Staff Sgt. Benjamin Seekell was the keynote speaker of the evening, having received his Purple Heart by way of being injured in combat in 2011 while in Afghanistan.

"People that have seen war don't always feel like they deserve the recognition and praise they receive when they come back home," Seekell said. "When they asked me to speak tonight, I was shocked."

Seekell added he felt as though there was surely someone else who could speak at the banquet, but that he was thankful he had been chosen.

He said his generation grew up glorifying war, playing video games and watching movies that recreated and romanticized the real scenes of war, and looking back on it, how anyone could glorify war was shocking to him.

"I was in my element in Afghanistan in 2011," Seekell said. "But if you spend your time looking for things that can blow you up, you'll eventually find what you're looking for. I found mine on Mother's Day in 2011."

Seekell then spoke on what the Purple Heart means, both to those who receive it and those who see recipients wearing the medal.

"There's the perception of the award," he said. "There was one day when I was talking with some guys and I noticed an airman kept looking at me. So I went ahead and initiated it and said, 'Airman Smith. Come on over here. You have something you want to say, don't you?' And he said, 'You don't really have to do anything more, do you? You're kind of done.' And I asked him what he meant, and he said, 'You have the Purple Heart -- what else do they want from you?' And it amazed me, seeing the emotions the Purple Heart evokes, knowing that the recipient has put their health and well-being on the line for their country."

Seekell said the reality was incredibly similar to the perception of the award, in that the reality was willingly putting yourself in harm's way and paying the price for it.

The stories attached to the Purple Heart are what give it meaning, he added.

"Usually, perception and reality differ," Seekell said. "They aren't so far apart in the case of the Purple Heart."