40-year wait nets two Purple Hearts

The Baltimore Sun

Vietnam veteran Gerald W. Elliott had waited 40 years for this moment, and he wasn't about to let Tropical Storm Hanna keep him away from the military ceremony at which he was to be decorated with two Purple Hearts.

Elliott, 61, a Salisbury resident, accompanied by his wife of 39 years, a daughter and a granddaughter, arrived shortly before the 11 a.m. ceremony yesterday at the Marine Corps Reserve Center in Northeast Baltimore.

Originally scheduled outdoors, it was moved because of the foul weather to a large gymnasium that was filled with Marines, some 50 of whom were in military formation. Others were there simply to see a fellow leatherneck honored and to shake his hand.

Precisely at 11 a.m., the ceremony got under way. "This award ceremony is a little overdue, and it is an honor to do this today," said Lt. Col. Jeffrey W. Miller, adding, "What you see here is a history of our corps, and the Marines continue to lead today."

After a recording of "The Star-Spangled Banner" was played, Elliott stood up and walked onto the basketball court, where he stood ramrod straight facing the lieutenant colonel as the Purple Heart citations were read.

On Oct. 16, 1967, Elliott was wounded when a blast from an anti-personnel weapon injured his right elbow and chin, causing him to be hospitalized for 10 days aboard the USS Okinawa.

Elliott was wounded a second time on March 7, 1968. He was on patrol when he was hit in the legs and arms by shrapnel from a mine.

After being wounded a second time, Elliott was sent home.

"I stayed my full entire 13 months," Elliott said in a telephone interview the other day.

After the lieutenant colonel pinned the Purple Heart with gold star on the left side of Elliott's chest, recordings of "Anchors Aweigh" and "The Marine Hymn" were played.

Miller then removed his hat, approached Elliott, and heartily shook his hand.

Discharged in 1969, Elliott, a native of Wattsville, Va., returned home and moved to Salisbury after his marriage to the former June Bussells, a registered nurse.

Several years ago, the couple began the process of getting Elliott the Purple Hearts that he deserved but never received.

"It took us three attempts cutting through the red tape and getting help from Sen. Barbara Mikulski and the Purple Heart Society," said Mrs. Elliott. "This time it worked."

Elliott admitted to being a little nervous.

"I was so overwhelmed, and I was afraid I might choke up. It's been such a long time," he said in a soft Virginia accent. "When I think back to those days, I try and think of only the good times."

Sidney Serres, Elliott's 10-year-old granddaughter, was beaming with pride for her grandfather.

"It's so exciting," she said.

"We're all very proud of him," said Kathy Elliott, a daughter.

The couple's other daughter, Jerri Elliott, wasn't able to attend the ceremony.

"We're now going to Severna Park and celebrate with a nice lunch with some relatives," Elliott said, as he prepared to leave the Marine Corps facility.

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