It is a ceremony that was 66 years in the making. 91-year-old Korean War Veteran Gene Coyle finally got his Purple Heart.
And his family believes that they’d still be trying to convince the Army to give it to him had it not been for our KELOLAND News Investigation into this “Forgotten Soldier of the Forgotten War.”
In November, we brought you Gene’s story and it was fascinating one. This rifleman and machine gunner was injured at least three times during battle.
One of the most amazing aspects of his story was that he just had wartime shrapnel removed from his back at the VA last summer.
Yet the Army continued to deny him the Purple Heart because his war records had burned in a 1973 fire.
However, his son Kenny, an Army vet himself, never gave up the fight to get his father the Purple Heart and that’s why he contacted KELOLAND Investigates to look into it. Now Kenny’s years of efforts finally pay off.
“It really is something to see your 91-year-old father– a combat infantry man of the Korean War and he’s still in here to walk in and get it, in his hometown from a United States Senator. It’s really amazing–yeah, it’s something,” Kenny Coyle said.
“It’s a great honor for me today on behalf of a grateful nation, a grateful state and the office I hold in the U.S. Senate to be able to recognize Private First Class Eugene Coyle with the Purple Heart, which he so richly deserves,” Thune said.
The unassuming 91-year-old accepted his Purple Heart with a smile and a joke.
“You’ve got the shrapnel to prove it,” Thune said.
But don’t expect Gene to make a big deal over it.
“It’s something I tried to avoid and I didn’t want recognition. I’m not the type that likes it,” Gene said.
“He says that… he says that because he’s still thinking of the guys who didn’t make it home and the guys who came home maimed; that’s why he says that,” Kenny said.
Angela Kennecke: Do you feel lucky?
Thune: Well, it should have happened a long time ago.
Coyle: Thanks a lot.
Thune: Thank you for your service, sir.
“I kind of like him. I see him on television. He’s okay,” Gene said.
“I’m just glad we got the chance to do that while Eugene is still up and able and obviously very, very spirited gentleman. And you can see why he was such an amazing soldier during his day,” Thune said.
Even Gene recognizes the significance of the timing of the presentation of his Purple Heart.
“I’ll die with it. Because when you’re 90-years-old, you don’t have that much longer left. I’d like to live to be a hundred, but I don’t think I’m going to make it,” Gene said.
But everyone is betting Gene will make it to 100. While Gene is modest about the honor, it’s really because he never talked about the war after returning home.