‘Finally they’re being recognized’: Vietnam veteran Jim Bouchard of Granby is state’s representative in Purple Heart Patriot Project

By MADDIE FABIAN

Staff Writer

Published: 09-15-2023 9:21 PM

GRANBY — In January 1970, while serving as a hospital corpsman in Vietnam, Jim Bouchard treated John Hurley after he was injured during the war. It wasn’t until decades later, when the two Purple Heart recipients were at a Veterans of Foreign Wars meeting together, that they realized their connection.

Last year, Hurley represented Massachusetts at the nation’s second Purple Heart Patriot Project trip to New York.

This year, Hurley nominated Bouchard to represent the state at the third project, a program of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission, which pays tribute to Purple Heart recipients and keeps their stories alive.

“He is very active in the community, and he helps anyone,” Hurley said. “ He will give you the shirt off his back… He is well deserving of this honor.”

Alongside his wife, Suzann Bouchard, Jim Bouchard will embark on the all-expenses-paid trip this Monday, Sept. 18. Over the course of four days, he and 49 other Purple Heart veterans will visit the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, the historic Washington’s Headquarters in Newburgh, the National Purple Heart Hall of Honor, among other events.

“Some of the things there bring tears to your eyes,” Hurley said. “It’s like a welcome home that we never got when we came home.”

At the Hall of Honor, honorees will have the opportunity to share their stories, which will be recorded and archived at the hall.

“I’m honored to tell my story,” said Bouchard, 75. “My children will hear about me more, my grandkids, grandnieces … they’re just excited for me. They know what I’ve been through.”

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Originally from northern Maine, Bouchard enlisted in the Navy in February 1967 and served as a hospital corpsman.

“As a young boy, my brother had diabetes, so sometimes my mom couldn’t give him his insulin shots and I would,” Bouchard said, adding that he also learned first aid skills in the Boy Scouts. “With my background in first aid, I said I think I’ll choose corpsman.”

“I didn’t know that not only was I going to be on a ship, but then I transferred from Fleet Marine Force and I ended up being attached to the Marines for three years,” he said.

In Vietnam on Aug. 5, 1969, while making his way to assist a wounded Marine, Bouchard was shot in the chest during a large ambush.

“I was able to use my radio and ask for help. … It was pretty scary,” he said.

After spending about a month in a surgical ward, he was ordered back to Vietnam working in triage, treating injured patients and working on medical supply before returning to the United States.

Along with his Purple Heart and Bronze Star with “V” (for valor), Bouchard was awarded the Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V,” the National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm, the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, and the Vietnam Service Medal with Marine Corps Combat Insignia with 1 Star Combat Action Ribbon.

“James and his fellow Patriot Project honorees represent the best of the best our country has to offer,” Richie Lay, chairman of the National Purple Heart Honor Mission, said in a statement. “America’s Purple Heart veterans have given so much to defend freedom and that sacrifice must always be remembered.”

Upon returning from the Navy, Bouchard went dancing with his girlfriend at the time. There, while sitting at a table, someone called him a “baby killer.”

“I put a 9-year-old boy in a helicopter dead and then someone called me a baby killer,” he said. “It wasn’t a good welcome at the time … I hear stories of people who were spat on.”

During the years following his arrival home, Bouchard became an emergency medical technician and instructor, then entered the construction field after experiencing PTSD during an ambulance run.

“I needed to be debriefed on what happened to me, so I went to Leeds VA, and I’ve been doing therapy ever since. It’s just part of what I do,” Bouchard said.

“I have to accept it because it happened, and I don’t want to deny it anymore,” he explained. “I’ve seen a lot of World War II veterans just denying and never telling their story … I know a 90-year-old who, it took him until he was in his 90s to realize, ‘I have PTSD and I need help,’ and he got help.”

Bouchard now spends much of his time engaged with local veterans. He is an active member of the local Disabled American Veterans and Military Order of the Purple Heart chapters, and also volunteers at local Veterans Affairs hospitals.

“It feels good to help other veterans out. … It doesn’t matter if they’re combat or not, we signed on the dotted line that whatever the government wants, we’ll do, including getting hurt or killed,” Bouchard said. He also cares for his son, who was seriously injured in Afghanistan.

Honorees of this year’s Patriot Project include Purple Heart recipients from World War II, the Vietnam War, Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom, and other conflicts, represent all military branches and range in age from 37 to 100.

Out of hundreds of nominations, one person was selected from each state to represent fellow Purple Heart recipients.

“For some, this will be like the homecoming they never had,” said Col. Russ Vernon, executive director for the National Purple Heart Honor Mission, in a statement. “We look forward to honoring James for his courage and service, both during combat operations and in the years since returning home.”

After the trip, Bouchard will be tasked with selecting the next Purple Heart recipient to represent Massachusetts at next year’s Patriot Project.

“Everybody we tell, everybody says the same thing: ‘Finally they’re getting recognized,’” said Suzann Bouchard.

Maddie Fabian can be reached at mfabian@gazettenet.com.]]>