Bryant gets Purple Heart
By By Chris Henley for The Brewton Standard
Decades after he sustained multiple injuries in a helicopter crash in Vietnam, John Bryant this week received what every injured soldier requiring military treatment is due: A Purple Heart.
"I joined up when I was 19 and turned 21 in Vietnam," Bryant said. "I was co-pilot in a helicopter gun ship. One day we were out on patrol when something happened and we crashed. It came down into the trees and then fell out of the trees about 200 feet."
Bryant was alive, but his injuries were extensive.
Other helicopters called in for rescue teams to retrieve Bryant and the pilot, Hugh Mills, who at the time was not seriously injured.
While recovering in the military hospital, the doctors told him Bryant he probably would never walk again.
Normally, injuries like those Bryant sustained automatically warrant the awarding a Purple Heart. Created by George Washington in 1783, the award is given only to those serving in the armed forces who are injured during a military conflict to such an extent as to require medical care.
However, two days after the accident, Bryant said, his unit was reassigned and split up all over Vietnam.
After the war, Bryant came home to Brewton and later went to college on the GI Bill. Currently he works for Control Specialists, a company based out of Birmingham.
Mills, it turns out, had remained in the Army and had been worked his way up to the rank of colonel.
Bryant said they had to send in medical reports and testimonies from some of the other pilots and rescuers.
This past Monday, he received a package from the U.S. Army.
Inside was a small grey case containing the Purple Heart.
Col. Mills, now retired, is trying to get a formal ceremony to present the award to Bryant at Ft. Rucker, the home of Army aviation.
For serving five months in Vietnam, Bryant did receive 11 air medals, each awarded for 25 hours of flight time.
The award was especially poignant because Bryant's father, who died in the Korean Conflict, earned one, as well. The senior Bryant's Purple Heart was awarded posthumously to John Bryant and his mother. Bryant said his Purple Heart will now join his father's, prominently on display in his home.