Obtaining Purple Heart list is Mission Impossible
I called the Pentagon Tuesday. I had a simple request.I wanted the names of Kansans from all military branches who received Purple Heart medals during the current wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. I was hoping for more than just the names. I also wanted hometowns, military rank, military unit, and the circumstances that led to receiving the medal.I didn’t think I was embarking on Mission Impossible.The Purple Heart is awarded to military personnel wounded or killed in battle. I called the Pentagon’s number used by the news media to make inquiries. After telling the person who answered what I wanted, I was told to call each of the military branches and make the request. That was, of course, the Army, Marines, Navy and Air Force. He gave me the phone number for each.I called the Army first and got a recording. I was told I could leave a message and someone would get back to me as soon as possible. The voice also said I could e-mail my inquiry and indicated that might be the quickest way to get a response. I left a voice message. Later during the day, when I had not received a response, I sent the e-mail. I called the phone number again and still got the recording. More than 24 hours later I still haven’t heard back from the Army.Next I called the Marines. I was transferred from one person to another and given numbers to call for other Marine departments and individuals. One woman told me straight out as soon I told her I was a newspaper reporter that she couldn’t help me. I didn’t even have a chance to tell her what I wanted. She said I had to call public affairs. I told her it was public affairs that sent me to her.”Well, I’m sorry, I can’t help you. You’re with a newspaper,” she said. Granted, some of the Marines I talked to were as incredulous as I was about the trouble I was having finding the right person to make the request to.The last call was to a Marine major I was told was in charge of the public affairs that deals with the media. I left a voice mail. I called later in the day and still got the same recording. I called this morning and left another message. That was several hours ago and I haven’t heard back.This morning I called the Navy and Air Force. The person at the Navy was going to pass my message on to a senior officer who would get back with me.The Air Force guy said he’d check and see if my request could be granted. He called me back a few hours later and said the Air Force didn’t have a list that breaks down where Purple Heart recipients are from. I asked about getting all of the names and then we’d do our own research and try to figure out their home state and towns. He said he could only give me numbers of total recipients, but not names.Well, at least the Air Force gave me a definite answer. I’m still waiting on the other branches.The military releases the names of personnel killed in action as soon as families are notified. The names of wounded personnel are not released. I have heard from various sources that it is because of individual privacy laws, in particular the Health Insurance and Portability and Accountability Act, known as HIPA. It is that law that sometimes prevents hospitals from releasing conditions of accident victims when we call.So to find out about the war’s wounded, you are on your own.