PEMBROKE — It’s more than 60 years late, but Army Cpl. James G. Oxendine has finally has the Purple Heart he earned as a young soldier during the Korean War.
During a ceremony Monday at the Lumbee Lodge in Pembroke, Oxendine, 81, smiled as he shook hands and received the medal from retired N.C. National Guard Maj. Gen. John Atkinson. Atkinson told the crowd of about 75 family members and friends that a Purple Heart is usually presented to a recipient in front of a group of soldiers.
“The good side of this is that he is being presented this honor in front of family, friends and the community,” he said.
Oxendine quietly received the medal he earned when he was the only survivor of an attack on a group of five tanks in Korea on Sept. 21, 1950.
“I’m not much of a talker,” Oxendine told The Robesonian after the ceremony. “But this has been a long time coming. It’s better late than never.”
Oxendine’s tank battalion was assigned to an Australian company. He watched fellow soldiers die during the enemy fire and he lay injured for three days before medics could assist him.
Ronnie Brooks, a veteran services officer with the Lumbee Tribe, said that there was never any paperwork submitted by the Australian military to U.S. military officials concerning Oxendine’s injuries.
‘When he was found alive, he was sent immediately to a hospital in Japan,” Brooks said.
According to Oxendine’s biography, he received treatment in Japan and Hawaii before being transported to the Combat Recovery Hospital in Texas, where he spent months recovering. After being released from the hospital, he spent the next two years driving trucks for the military before being released from active duty on March 17, 1952.
Brooks said that the matter of Oxendine having never received his Purple Heart was brought to the attention of the Lumbee Tribe about six weeks ago by Tribal Chairman Paul Brooks. Help in getting Oxendine his long overdue medal was then sought from U.S. Reps. Mike McIntyre and Larry Kissell, and the Veteran’s Legacy Foundation, Brooks said.
“Paul’s trying to revamp the (Lumbee) veterans organization so that mistakes like this are never made again,” Ronnie Brooks said. “If they wore green and bled red, we (Lumbee veterans department) are going to help.”
Brooks said that the flag flying over the Capitol in Washington on Monday will be presented to Oxendine.
“We should have the flag in four to six weeks,” he said.
John Elskamp, president of the Veteran’s Legacy Foundation, said after the ceremony that his organization does the detailed research needed to help veterans get all of the benefits they are eligible to receive. He said that the foundation, established in 2010, is currently working on 165 cases dating from pre-World War I to the Iraqi War.
“This has been a long time in coming, but it couldn’t have come at a better time, Memorial Day,” said Nina Lowry, one of Oxendine’s five daughters, all of whom were present at the ceremony. “He never complained about not getting the medal. He never said that anyone owed him anything.”
“He has a lot of pride,” Ronnie Brooks said. “It wouldn’t let him say ‘you made a mistake’. He didn’t want anyone to say anything bad about the Army.”
In St. Pauls, the downtown War Memorial was the site of the community’s Memorial Day service.
The annual event, organized by VFW Post 12025 and American Legion Post 5, included members of the North Carolina National Guard laying wreaths at the foot of the memorial in memory of military men and women who lost their lives while serving their country. It also included the reading of an original poem written especially for the St. Pauls ceremony, the singing of “God Bless America,” and the playing of Taps.
“As I thought about what to say today, the one thing that kept coming to mind is ‘remembrance’,” keynote speaker Maj. Matthew Hash, who is currently serving as operations officer for the XVIII Airborne Marine Corps G7 at Fort Bragg, said. “… I came home, but others were not so lucky.”
Hash, who has been in the military for 15 years, has been deployed to Iraq three times. During his brief remarks at Monday’s service he told about two fellow officers, “close friends,” who were killed while serving their country overseas.
“We’ve lost a lot of soldiers and need to remember them,” he said. “We have to take care of their families.”
Hash said that keeping up the tradition of community Memorial Day services is the “key” to preventing the true meaning of the day to be forgotten.
“This is a day of remembrance and should not just become another holiday,” he said.
In Fairmont, the town held its fifth annual Memorial Day ceremony at noon inside the Heritage Center. About 80 people attended the hour-long program, which featured a flag ceremony by cadets in Fairmont High School’s ROTC program and a speech by town resident and former Army nurse Toni Grimsley. Grimsley reviewed the service and sacrifices made by women in the military over the years.
The national anthem was sung by Lauren Miller, poems were read by Sgt. Maj. Tevin Marshall of the Fairmont High School ROTC, and the invocation was offered by Julie Sawyer, a physical therapist at Southeastern Regional Medical Center and a former member of the U.S. Air Force.
The ceremony concluded with introductions of the veterans attending and the passing out of poppies and U S. flags to the audience by the town’s Farmers Festival queens.
The Lumberton chapter of the Disabled American Veterans also held a memorial service behind the Robeson County Public Library in Lumberton. Veteran Gary Deese was the keynote speaker.
Reach staff writer Bob Shiles at 910-272-6117 or email@example.com.