Gila River Indian Community Hosts Purple Heart Luncheon To Honor Veterans

Gila River Purple Heart luncheon

SACATON, AZ – The Gila River Indian Community’s (GRIC) Veterans & Family Services Office (VFSO) recently hosted a Purple Heart Luncheon at the District 4 Service Center to honor veterans and family members of deceased veterans with honorary plaques, challenge coins and food provided by Dewski’s Frybread.

The Purple Heart medal, initially created as the Badge of Merit in 1782, is the oldest military decoration and is presented to those that have been wounded or killed in combat. Purple Heart Day on Aug. 7 is a national day to recognize sacrifices made by military members.

“Thank you to all of the veterans for serving our country, for our people, for our families, for our children and for our honor,” said Lt. Gov. Monica Antone in her opening address at the luncheon. 

This was the second year that GRIC hosted a Purple Heart Community event. The Military Order of the Purple Heart – Department of Arizona, part of a national organization for combat-wounded veterans, first recognized GRIC as a “Purple Heart Community” in a ceremony on Aug. 26, 2022.

At the luncheon, the honor bell rang 62 times as the name of each deceased veteran was announced and their families were given Purple Heart challenge coins. Also, the eight surviving veterans’ names were called and they were given Purple Heart challenge coins, as well as wooden service plaques created by Community artist Earlton Lewis.

Gila River Purple Heart plaque

“I like to see the smiles on the veterans and family members’ faces knowing that they’ve been recognized for their contribution that they’ve given while they were in the military,” said Eric White, VFSO Coordinator and a U.S. Marine Corps retiree who was a Master Gunnery Sergeant.

White and his team provide 24-hour services to the veterans in the Community. They assist with disability resources and service-connected pension plans and help family members with funeral head markers for deceased service members.

“I think this was a good event because it may have given some closure to family members knowing that their loved ones have been recognized as a Purple Heart recipient from the Community,” said White.