NH soldiers share family bond — and Purple Hearts
During the Vietnam War, shrapnel from a mortar round blinded John Morse for eight days. The East Kingston teenager turned down a Purple Heart in the hospital.
Forty-four years later, Morse's son-in-law, Paul Dimond, was injured in Afghanistan when a bomb went off at a graduation ceremony. The Manchester father helped contain the scene before driving his team to a medical station.
Both men, linked by family and military service, are to be honored with Purple Heart ceremonies eight days apart.
Dimond, 42, will receive his award at a 10 a.m. ceremony Friday at the State House in Concord. Gov. Maggie Hassan and U.S. Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte are scheduled to attend along with Brigadier Generals Michaelene Kloster and Peter Corey.
Morse, 67, received his award about two months ago, but the military held a ceremony last week in Tennessee, where Morse now lives after calling East Kingston, Milford and Derry home for about a dozen years combined.
The coincidental timing is "very rare, but it's special," said Nathan Weinbaum, director of veterans affairs/veterans service officer for Blount County, Tenn., who worked to secure the award for Morse.
"Both men are what defines Americans," he said in a phone interview from Tennessee. "They both put their life on the line for our freedom. Whether people are for or against our wars, they volunteered to be out there, to face combat."
On Oct. 29, 1967, Morse was standing guard duty for the 9th Infantry Division at Bearcat Base in Vietnam when he was hit in the face and eyes by shrapnel while in a bunker on the base's perimeter.
"They wanted to send me home and I didn't want to go," Morse said. "When I was in the hospital, they tried to award me the medal. I said I didn't want it and didn't deserve it at the time."
About six months after returning home in May 1968, he received a Purple Heart certificate and stuck it in a drawer.
A Purple Heart is awarded to any member of the U.S. armed forces wounded, killed or who has died after being wounded.
Weinbaum said about 100 people attended Morse's ceremony.
"It was a pretty emotional ceremony for a Vietnam veteran to finally receive his Purple Heart over 47 years later," Weinbaum said. "I think he was emotional and I think everyone else was as well."
In 2011, Dimond was in the U.S. Army Reserves serving as an adviser to the Afghan National Army when an improvised explosive device placed under the seats at a military graduation ceremony exploded on Dec. 8, 2011.
According to the ceremony's program, Sergeant First Class Dimond "maintained his composure, assessed his own injuries and made an initial assessment of the other wounded personnel and obtained 100 percent accountability of his team."
Part of the bomb failed to detonate. Dimond directed the Afghan army personnel to shut down an entrance point and ordered the site secured. He "then loaded up his team and drove them to the medical station for evaluation."
Dimond, who is married to Morse's daughter, Mary, this week didn't want to talk about his injuries or his recovery.
Dimond, who works security at Seabrook Station but is still in the U.S. Army Reserves, said it was "pretty awesome" for both he and Morse to receive the Purple Hearts so close together.
"He had it coming to him for a long time," Dimond said of his father-in-law. "Those guys never got the welcome home that we got. They came back from Vietnam and didn't have the resources or the welcome we got."
Neither man could attend the other's ceremony.
"That would have been great if I had been there" in Tennessee, Dimond said.
Asked how he felt about receiving the Purple Heart, Dimond said: "It's a huge honor. It's very humbling. I feel the same way he does. There are lot of people worse off than me and you've got to respect that."