In recognition of military veterans wounded while serving their country, Gov. Nathan Deal signed a proclamation declaring this week as “Purple Heart Week” in the state of Georgia.
Deal said in the proclamation that Georgia is home to more than 5,000 recipients of the medal who have contributed to the “blessings of freedom and democracy we enjoy today.”
And Cherokee County is not without its fair share of veterans who made their contribution to those blessings by being wounded in the line of duty, said Irma Martin, commander at South Cherokee American Legion Post 316.
Martin said her American Legion post has more than a few Purple Heart recipients in its ranks, and there are more still who are members of other organizations in Cherokee County.
They are “humble, outstanding citizens,” who continue to do their part for the community by volunteering for thankless jobs and working fundraisers, Martin said.
But all too often, these veterans go unnoticed and without the honor they are rightfully due, Martin said.
“A lot of them are really humble, they see it as (they were just) doing their job,” Martin said. “But they’re the ones that are to be admired for what they’ve done to help keep not just Cherokee County, but our country safe and free.”
Chuck Pesta, 67, of Woodstock, is one of Cherokee County’s veterans who was wounded in the line of duty.
Pesta served in the U.S. Army Special Forces during the Vietnam War.
He was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries he sustained near the Cambodian border on March 25, 1969.
At about 9 a.m. that morning, Pesta and his men were traveling near the Cambodian border when another American battalion was attacked.
Pesta said the men were surrounded by North Vietnamese soldiers and fought a brief bloody battle. Before long, Pesta’s battalion had its own battle with those North Vietnamese soldiers.
“We were outnumbered about 10 to 15 to one,” Pesta said. “We got our clocks cleaned.”
During the fight, Pesta’s best friend was killed, and Pesta was shot in the arm.
Later that night, after being on the move for more than 13 more hours, Pesta finally received medical attention. He had to recover for several weeks.
Pesta then went back to combat.
“They were going to send me home, but I wanted to go back with the guys I was serving with,” he said.
After the Vietnam War, Pesta said his experience looking back hasn’t always been good.
“When I came home, I didn’t even want to talk about Vietnam,” he said.
But Pesta said he was glad to receive the Purple Heart, though it wasn’t an honor he set out to earn.
“That’s an award I’m not supposed to get,” he said.
For Woodstock native Jeffrey Cole, a Purple Heart was also not what he set out for when he joined the U.S. Marine Corps.
“It’s not an award that anybody strives to receive,” Cole said. “Nobody ever wants to get this award under any circumstances. The only way you get it is by being wounded.”
Just 23 years old today, Cole said he was wounded Aug 17, 2010, while serving in the war in Afghanistan.
Cole said he and nine other Marines were on patrol in Marja, Afghanistan, talking to locals in hopes of learning about the area and locate Taliban fighters.
They soon found those fighters, but Cole said it was not in the way they’d hoped to.
Instead, the Marines were ambushed, and six of them were shot, including Cole.
Cole said he was shot in his left arm, a life-threatening injury that has led to numerous surgeries and lengthy hospital stays in the last three years.
He received his Purple Heart while still recovering in the hospital.
“I can’t exactly say I’m proud of it, but at least I’m alive to receive it,” he said. “I chose to do that job knowing full well what might happen.”
The other five Marines in Cole’s group who were shot that day also survived.
Cole’s fellow member at American Legion Post 316 in Woodstock, Robert Bullock, 62, also earned a Purple Heart. But his injuries weren’t sustained in traditional combat.
Instead, Bullock was shot on April 1, 1970, when his sleeping quarters in Nha Trang, South Vietnam, suddenly turned into a battlefield.
“We were sleeping, and at about 1 a.m. I woke up and heard incoming rounds,” he said.
Bullock and another soldier in the barracks rolled off their bunks and took cover underneath, listening to the rounds as they came in.
He then felt blood dripping down and realized he’d been hit with shrapnel.
“I got hit in the head and my left shoulder and right leg,” Bullock said.
Bullock recovered for 10 days in the hospital and went back into service.
The other soldier in the barracks when Bullock was wounded also survived the attack.
Although like most others he never planned on being awarded for wounds sustained in battle, Edwards said he’s glad to have received the honor.
“My wife put together a big picture frame with the Purple Heart and letters from the war,” he said. The frame hangs on the wall in his home office.
The men Steven Edwards was in battle with Sep. 3, 1968, in Vietnam weren’t so lucky.
Edwards, a 64-year-old Woodstock resident, received his Purple Heart after being shot eight times that day by North Vietnamese soldiers.
Edwards said he signed on to become a Marine at 18 years old, because “I wanted to fight for my country.”
He got that chance when he and six other Marines were attacked 18 miles south of Da Nang, Vietnam.
Edwards said shortly before the attack he had seen about 25 North Vietnamese soldiers standing along a roadside near where they were set up.
He tried to warn his fellow soldiers.
“I kept telling them ‘We’re going to get hit tonight,’” Edwards said. “And they said ‘No, we’re not.’”
But Edwards’ fears were realized when the North Vietnamese soldiers stormed his group.
They used B-40 rockets, RPGs and small arms fire against the Americans, leaving Edwards the only one alive of the seven men, he said.
Edwards said he was flown back to America the next day, and recovered in Virginia for a year and a half.
After getting out of the hospital, Edwards said his experience was much like that of many other American troops returning home from the highly protested war in Vietnam.
“People spit on me,” he said, and “called me ‘baby killer.’”
Now, more than 40 years later, Edwards said the abuse of those who opposed the war is long gone, and he has settled into a better state of mind about his time in Vietnam.
“I am very proud,” to have served, he said.