Purple Heart recipients’ sacrifices are heroic, but their stories often remain private

Among the highest honors for valor among veterans is the Purple Heart. Many in Bartholomew, Jennings and surrounding counties are recipients of the medal awarded for injuries — sometimes fatal — sustained in hostilities.

While we honor Purple Heart recipients with a day set aside in their honor, Aug. 7, the exact number of veterans who have received the honor is unknown for our region or any other, according to Peter Bedrossian, program director for the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, New York. The U.S. military has awarded the Purple Heart since 1932, but you won’t find a comprehensive list of recipients.

The nonprofit organization Bedrossian directs, which maintains a museum supported by the New York State Parks system, relies on self-reporting by veterans or their families to catalog and honor those whose sacrifices earned the Purple Heart. So does another nonprofit that serves recipients, the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

“There is no list of Purple Heart recipients maintained by the Federal Government,” according to the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor. “The information is found on the record of the individual, or in copies of General Orders. This information has never been extracted to generate a list of all recipients.”

While there are certainly more, Bedrossian said his organization has records of 10 veterans from Bartholomew County and three from Jennings who have been awarded the Purple Heart.

Here are the stories of just a few of them, based on information from the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor and Republic archives.

Charles H. McDaniel Sr., of Vernon, had been a World War II medic before he served as an Army master sergeant in the Korean War. He was declared missing in action on Nov. 2, 1950. It wasn’t until nearly 68 years later that his family learned traces had been found, and McDaniel was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart and other military honors.

Army Chaplain Charles McDaniel Jr. and his brother, Larry McDaniel, recovered their father’s dog tag from the Army on Aug. 8, 2018. It had been turned over to the US government in 55 boxes of remains released by the government of North Korea.

As The Republic reported in 2018, “According to an Army profile on Charles H. McDaniel, there is no evidence that he was captured and held as a prisoner of war. An eyewitness to the battle (at Unsan in late 1950) told military leaders that (McDaniel) was killed in action while working with the wounded.

“That’s where the story ended for my father, until the dog tag,” Charles McDaniel Jr. said.

Robert Warren Langwell, who was born in Columbus, was awarded the Purple Heart posthumously in 2009, nearly 60 years after he died during the Korean War at age 26.

Langwell, an Indiana University graduate, had been assigned as a Navy ensign to the USS Magpie, a minesweeper that struck a mine on Oct. 1, 1950, killing all 21 crew members. In 2009, Langwell’s remains were recovered after a Korean villager directed military personnel to a grave he’d dug 59 years earlier for a body that had washed ashore.

Langwell was buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia with full military honors.

Charles “Red” Whittington of Columbus was among the soldiers of the U.S. Army 95th Division, 377th Infantry, Company I, who fought during World War II to liberate the town of Metz, France, in October 1944. Whittington, who received a Purple Heart for injuries sustained in combat, and his brothers-in-arms became known as “The Iron Men of Metz” for their fierce resistance to German counterattacks and were honored in 2014 when the US 31 bridge over Clifty Creek was renamed in their honor.

Whittington died in 2020 at age 98.

James Robert Hunt of Columbus had enlisted in the US Navy immediately after graduating from Columbus High School in 1958. He was initially assigned to submarine service but after several years moved over to patrol boats.

On Aug. 23, 1970, he was aboard one of those patrol boats when it was hit by enemy rocket and artillery fire during a combat patrol in Binh Duong Province. He died of his wounds. Hunt is one of at least 27 local service members who died during the Vietnam War.