Weekly Columns

A Long Overdue Honor

Jul 08 2015

The Purple Heart is one of the most recognizable medals of our Armed Forces. Displaying a bust of George Washington and his coat of arms, the purple heart-shaped medal is bestowed upon the men and women in our military who are wounded or killed in action. In early July, two Arkansas soldiers received this fitting recognition honoring their service and sacrifice. 

On June 1, 2009, Private William Long of Conway was killed and Private Quinton Ezeagwula of Jacksonville was wounded when a terrorist opened fire outside of a Little Rock Army recruiting center. Unfortunately, Army regulations didn’t allow these soldiers the honor of the Purple Heart because they were not killed or wounded in combat. 

In today’s world, we must operate under the assumption that the battlefield extends beyond the war zone and all the way home to Arkansas and in this instance, to Little Rock. Privates Long and Ezeagwula were targeted because of their service, dedication and devotion to our county and the war against terror. 

Working with my colleagues in the Arkansas Congressional Delegation and in both chambers of Congress, I set out to update the Army requirements and recognize Privates Long and Ezeagwula with the Purple Heart. 

I helped introduce legislation to right this wrong. In the 112th and the 113th Congress, Arkansas members introduced the Honoring Ezeagwula and Long Act (HEAL) Act to allow them to be eligible for a Purple Heart but it was a provision to the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) last year that revised the requirement. 

In 2014 Congress passed, and the President signed the NDAA that paved the way for these heroes to receive the Purple Heart. The law authorizes the Purple Heart to service members killed or wounded in an attack that specifically targets service members because of their status as a member of the nation’s Armed Forces or is carried out by a foreign terrorist organization.  

This law was the first step, but it required Army approval. In a letter to the Secretary of the Army late last year, I joined Arkansas Congressional Delegation members in stating the case for these soldiers to be awarded the Purple Heart based on the new criteria. 

In April, I was proud to call Private Long’s father, Daris Long, and tell him that the Army finally approved the Purple Heart for his son. His devotion to making sure his son received the honor he deserves for paying the ultimate sacrifice for this terrorist attack is inspiring. During the Purple Heart medal ceremony at the State Capital in Little Rock, Mr. Long said the prayers of his family have been answered. 

I was honored to attend the Purple Heart ceremony and recognize Privates Long and Ezeagwula. This long overdue honor is the least our country can do to offer our gratitude. It’s important to recognize the service and sacrifice of our men and women who are willing to stand in defense of our nation, no matter where they serve.