During the height of the war in Vietnam, U.S. Navy Chief Petty Officer Paul Phillips was in Southeast Asia, working in a building, when an explosion erupted and left him with burns over one-third of his body.
After a year and half recovering in the hospital, Phillips returned to the war to serve alongside his fellow Seabees, who constructed camps for Special Forces, schools and other infrastructure needs.
On April 19, Phillips was awarded the Purple Heart during a ceremony in Richardson Hall at Go Ye Village. Family, friends, classmates, fellow U.S. military veterans, local and area dignitaries and members of the community were on hand to witness the presentation of the award, which is bestowed upon soldiers wounded or killed in military action.
Phillips was surprised to see so many people attend the event.
“I am definitely honored. I never expected it to be like this,” he said. “This is just awesome. All of my classmates who are still around showed up. [So did] all of my friends and my family. It was just an awesome event.”
U.S. Dist. 2 Congressman Markwayne Mullin, R-Okla., presented Phillips with the Purple Heart. The award was originally known as the Badge of Military Merit and was established by then-Continental Army Commander-in-Chief George Washington.
“It’s an absolute privilege today to recognize a gentleman who’s probably gone long enough without being recognized for his service that he provided this great nation,” Mullin said. “You know, when I signed up for this job, I never thought this would be part of it. I can tell you I probably gave a couple hundred interviews and speeches, and I have yet to be this nervous. I’m not even worthy to present this.”
Mullin informed Phillips the U.S. flag was scheduled to be flown over the Capitol Friday, April 19 in his honor.
“We will bring that same flag to you, along with the certificate showing the flag was flown today in your honor, when we get it back from the Capitol,” Mullin said.
The ceremony also recognized other military veterans in the audience, along with their spouses and families. Other dignitaries included Oklahoma Army National Guard Col. Rex Duncan; Tahlequah Military Order of the Purple Heart Cmdr. Don Nichols; Rep. William Fourkiller, D-Stilwell; Sen. Larry Boggs, R-Wilburton; Sen. Wayne Shaw, R-Grove; Cherokee Nation Principal Chief Bill John Baker; and Northeastern State University President Dr. Steve Turner.
As many veterans will say, nobody ever “wins” the Purple Heart, and most of those who should receive one go unnoticed, said Tahlequah Order of the Purple Heart Vice Cmdr. Hal Sharpe.
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