Purple Heart Day observed in Northampton

  • Brad LeVay, of Northampton, during a ceremony held at Memorial hall in Northampton in honor of Purple Heart day. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • Brad LeVay, of Northampton, during a ceremony held at Memorial hall in Northampton in honor of Purple Heart day. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • Brad LeVay, of Northampton, speaks during a ceremony held at Memorial hall in Northampton in honor of Purple Heart day. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • left, James Bouchard of Granby, Brad LeVay, of Northampton, and Chalres Coleman, of Florence, raise the Purple Heart flag during a ceremony held at Memorial hall in Northampton in honor of Purple Heart day. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

  • left, James Bouchard of Granby, Brad LeVay, of Northampton, and Chalres Coleman, of Florence, raise the Purple Heart flag during a ceremony held at Memorial hall in Northampton in honor of Purple Heart day. CAROL LOLLIS—Gazette Staff/Carol Lollis

@DHGCrosby
Published: 8/7/2016 4:45:40 PM

NORTHAMPTON – Amidst the whir of weekend traffic and the chirping of crosswalk signals downtown, a clear voice rang out in patriotic song.

An American flag was lowered some and a Purple Heart banner raised – both meeting in the middle. For a moment, time seemingly stood still.

Beneath the flags, a small group of nearly 20 stood outside of Memorial Hall, eyes upturned with somber faces. They paused in the hot sun to observe Purple Heart Day, a holiday to honor servicemen and women wounded or killed in combat.

Three recipients of the prestigious military medal were called forth by the Veterans Council of Northampton to be recognized – Brad LeVay of Leeds, 84, a Marine Corps veteran who was injured in the Korean War, Charles Coleman of Florence, 70, an Army veteran wounded during the Vietnam War and James Bouchard of Granby, 68, a Navy and Marines veteran also injured in Vietnam.

Often described as the military’s oldest merit award, George Washington created the Purple Heart on Aug. 7, 1782.

It was yet another distinctive day that brought Bouchard to the Northampton ceremony.

A day that plays over and over in his subconscious mind, at night. 

In August 1969, he and others acted on orders to surround a command post in Vietnam and walked into an ambush. A bullet from an AK-47 hit him in the upper chest, Bouchard recalled.

Chaos ensued around him, he continued, as three Marines were killed and nine more wounded.

Bouchard used a battle dressing to stop the bleeding on his own wound while radioing for help.

“I was just scared out of my mind,” he said. “I called my mom’s name out a lot.”

Pushing aside his own pain, he kept another wounded man breathing – an act he’d later receive a Bronze Star for. 

“I didn’t want to be alone,” he explained.

After what seemed like over an hour, Bouchard and three others were picked up by a medical helicopter and rushed for treatment. Those three injured alongside him were all dead by the time the helicopter landed, Bouchard recalled grimly.

He was deployed to Vietnam again, less than six months after the incident.

Looking back on his military experiences Sunday, Bouchard remained humble. “I had to go,” he said. “I’m just proud to have served my nation.”

While his service did not cost him his own life, Bouchard continues to struggle, daily, with post-traumatic stress.

He moved to Leeds for a post-traumatic stress disorder program at the Department of Veteran’s Affairs hospital, which he said has helped “tremendously.”

Bouchard said he no longer feels alone.

“I found other guys that were like me,” he said, mentioning the regular support groups he attends.

Mayor David Narkewicz, who is a non-combat Air Force veteran, said the city has a long history of honoring veterans.

“Per capita, Northampton serves more veterans under the state veterans’ benefit program than any other community in Massachusetts,” he said.

“So many of our sons and daughters from Northampton stepped forward to answer the call to service during times of national conflict,” he said.

In 2013, Narkewicz said, the city was designated as a “Purple Heart City.” The term refers to “a community’s commitment to recognize both living and deceased Purple Heart recipients,” the mayor said.

A series of small road signs denoting that status are placed at 11 entrances to Northampton.

Community support – something Bouchard did not experience upon his initial return back to the U.S. after war – also makes a big difference for him now. That support has also heavily impacted Bouchard’s son Joshua, a Marine Corps veteran who lost a leg at the knee and suffered spinal injuries and a broken arm from an explosive device in Afghanistan nearly 40 years to the day from his father’s injuries. 

Hundreds of community volunteers and veterans showed up in 2013 for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the younger Bouchard’s new adaptive home, which was provided by Taunton-based nonprofit Homes for Our Troops. Joshua Bouchard also received a Purple Heart award.

Through this symbol, James Bouchard said, the sacrifices of many including his own and his son’s are recognized. They both spend time reaching out to fellow veterans and family members of lost veterans.

James Bouchard has gathered “much courage” from seeing the way his son deals with his own wounds from war. He provides physical support for his son and in return, Joshua Bouchard supports him emotionally. James Bouchard hopes others will find that solace in each other.

LeVay, who also serves as president of the council, asked attendees on Sunday to take that same time to “listen to and share a veteran’s story of honor and courage.”

It’s important that people not forget those sacrifices made, Narkewicz said.

Though the Bouchard’s experiences cannot be erased, they have each other to hold on to. Many aren’t so lucky, Bouchard said.

“I deal with all of that, I have to,” he said, recalling painful memories of lives lost alongside him.

“It’s part of who I am,” he continued. “I’m a Vietnam veteran.”

Sarah Crosby can be reached at scrosby@gazettenet.com.


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