Korean War hero, Purple Heart recipient dies of COVID-19

Investigates

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — We first introduced you to Gene Coyle in 2017.

Our investigation the “Forgotten Soldier of the Forgotten War” looked into why Coyle, who was 91 at the time, had never received the Purple Heart after being hit by enemy fire in battle.

Sadly, the rifleman and machine gunner lost his fight to COVID-19 on October 8. We’re looking back at his service to his country and the Purple Heart that arrived 70 years late.

Korean War Veteran Gene Coyle was nothing, if not a modest man.

“I’m the type that don’t need it, recognition,” Gene said on November 17, 2017.

However, he loved to tell war stories. Gene was hit by enemy fire at least three times on the battlefield.

“We both turned and fired at the same time and I had my rifle. And I had my rifle up and when I turned to fire, he fired the same time. And his bullet went under my arm; see I had my arms up. It went under my arms, cut my dog tags off and went under this arm. (laughter). Oh my gosh!” Gene said in 2017.

Gene was supposed to receive a Purple Heart, but that never happened.

November 9, 2017

Kenny Coyle: He should receive at least two Bronze Stars; two Purple Hearts at minimum.
Angela Kennecke: Was he let down by his country by not getting these medals?
Kenny: I think so. I think so.

Gene’s son, Kenny, began digging up his father’s old records to try to remedy the problem. But he ran into one roadblock after another.

The U.S. Army denied Gene his medals because a fire had burned his records at the National Archives in 1973. Then at 90, a piece of war-time shrapnel was removed from his back.

“It healed over. But the piece of metal was still there,” Gene said in November of 2017.

But that still wasn’t enough proof for the Army.

December 27, 2017

Following our KELOLAND News Investigation into Gene’s case, Senator John Thune was finally able to present Gene with the Purple Heart.

“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,” Sen. Thune said.

Gene and his family say the recognition was better late than never.

“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.

Unfortunately, Gene was right. He didn’t make it to 100; he was 94-years-old.

After recovering from two surgeries this year, Coyle contracted COVID-19 at the Good Samaritan nursing home in Lennox.

In August of this year, Senator Thune paid tribute to Coyle’s bravery for the Congressional Record.

Gene Coyle’s funeral will be held October 14, 2020, at St. George Catholic Church in Hartford.

You can read his obituary here. His family is asking for donations to Emily’s Hope in his memory.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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