The Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles issued 10,827 Purple Heart license plates in 2012, according to state data obtained by the Springfield News-Sun, marking a huge jump from the 5,676 issued in 2008 to denote that the vehicle’s owner was wounded in combat.
But, privacy rules prevent local chapters of the Military Order of the Purple Heart from finding out who has them, said Jim Ryan, commander of Clark County’s Chapter 620.
“It’s frustrating for us,” Ryan said Wednesday as a small number of combat-wounded local residents gathered at the Springfield Air National Guard Base to commemorate Purple Heart Day with an annual luncheon.
Ryan — a lifelong Springfield resident who took an enemy bullet during a bayonet charge in Vietnam’s Mekong Delta on May 31, 1967 — said the group merely wants to inform those awarded the Purple Heart for wartime wounds that a lifetime membership into the order in Ohio is currently free.
“We can’t get their names,” Ryan said. “It’s one of those things they don’t allow.”
Members of Chapter 620 have, at various times, resorted to chasing after cars with the special license plates.
“I’m serious. We’ve done that,” Ryan, 67, said. “I’ve done that personally. I had one guy join.”
Clark County’s chapter, established in 1995, has about 70 members. Those who gathered Wednesday for the annual luncheon earned that free meal the hard way.
“It’s not something anybody strives to get,” Ryan said of the Purple Heart, which can only be awarded to a service member wounded or killed in combat. “But, once you receive it, you’re very proud of it.”
“My grandson’s in the military,” he added. “I hope he never gets one.”
Ryan’s 26-year-old grandson, Tech. Sgt. Jac Lloyd, a member of the Ohio Air National Guard’s 178th Fighter Wing, was among a couple of active airmen to attend the luncheon.
“It’s impressive to see a group of heroes getting together,” Lloyd said. “It’s good for them, it’s good for the community.”
The wing’s vice commander, Col. John Thompson, opened the luncheon with an overview of the base’s current missions, including the remote flying of Predator drones, then took a moment to express his gratitude.
“You folks haven’t paid the ultimate price, but right up to it,” said Thompson, a former F-16 pilot who flew combat during the first Gulf War. “I’m humbled to be standing before you.”
Richard Jacobs, a lifelong Springfield resident and Chapter 620 member, lost his right arm during World War II while fighting in Europe with the 44th Infantry Division’s 324th Regiment.
Now three months shy of his 91st birthday, Jacobs helped raise four children after coming home.
“I had a good wife for 62½ years. I always say she was my right-hand man,” Jacobs said. “I’ve had a good life.”
Shot in France on Feb. 15, 1945 — it was a Friday, he remembers, and his arm was amputated that Monday — Jacobs keeps a unique stance on his life-altering wound.
“I’d like to find the German that shot my arm off,” he said Wednesday. “I’d like to thank him for sending me home. I saw a lot of guys who didn’t get to come home.”
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