Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A Purple Heart for a Heart of Gold

The Olympics have stirred quite a bit of patriotism in me. I can't help but get a little choked up when I see the the smiles and high fives among teammates after a successful race, or routine, or play.  What gets me even more emotional, is seeing the hugs and congratulations between competitors.  It makes you realize that every nation can put aside their differences and appreciate that they are all working toward the same goal.  

Today, my Mom sent me this article.  I am attaching it below as well.  While our Olympic teams are receiving medals, my 24 year old cousin, Joe (Ja-Joe) Gerarde just received an even more honorable medal: a Purple Heart!  

I am so proud of you Joe, wherever you may be tonight.  We love you and are so thankfully for the sacrifices you are making for your platoon and your country.  Thank you to all the men and women serving our country. Get home safely!

A Purple Heart medal is pinned on Joseph Gerarde, right, of Queensbury. Gerarde, a soldier with the 82nd Airborne Division based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina, was injured on Memorial Day in Afghanistan during a mortar strike.

QUEENSBURY ♦ Connie Gerarde-Niles got the news two days after her son Joseph was wounded on Memorial Day in Afghanistan.

“I was notified two days later, but as a mom, I knew on Memorial Day. I had a feeling,” Gerarde-Niles said. “Joseph called me himself, and we chatted for a minute or two, and then he said, ‘Mom, I do need to tell you something, but you can’t freak out. I do have all my limbs, and my head is attached,’ and then the phone went dead.”

It was a frantic few minutes, as Gerarde-Niles called for her other son, Michael Gerarde, to get her husband, Michael Niles. The three sat together and waited for Joseph to call back.

His platoon had just completed a successful mission and was about to leave the mission area when one of the officers asked for a volunteer to stay behind with other soldiers.

Gerarde volunteered. His platoon left, and the sergeant from another platoon told him to put his gear where other soldiers had put theirs.

“That’s when the mortar hit, 15 feet from him,” Gerarde-Niles said. “I guess it threw him and covered him in dirt. They got him out shortly after — everyone said he was lucky to be alive and not bleeding to death.”

Joseph Gerarde, 24, is serving as an infantryman with the Army’s 82nd Airborne Division, based at Fort Bragg in North Carolina. He received a Purple Heart after the Memorial Day incident, Gerarde-Niles said.

He didn’t suffer shrapnel wounds, which are common with mortar strikes, but he had a concussion and suffered hearing loss, Niles said.

The family heard from Gerarde about once a week when he was able to call from the hospital in Afghanistan. His hearing loss seemed to improve during that time, and he was released from the hospital last week, Gerarde-Niles said.

“It was a bad concussion from what I’m assuming; he was not able to sleep nights and had terrible headaches,” said Gerarde-Niles, who got emotional speaking about her son’s injuries. “But he was just anxious to get back to his platoon.”

Gerarde-Niles is the president of Keena Staffing in Queensbury. Joseph told her last year he planned to join the military, and he’s been deployed overseas since March.

He attended high school in Queensbury through 10th grade before attending boarding schools, Gerarde-Niles said.

After Joseph was released from the hospital last week, he went back on active duty. Both Gerarde-Niles and Niles said they have been fighting an “imaginary war” of their own internally, as they worry about his safety.

“When Joseph is on a mission, it weighs on your mind,” Niles said. “But we’ve been blessed with a network that’s very supportive.”

Since her son deployed, Gerarde-Niles has connected with other local mothers whose sons are serving overseas. She communicates with them daily, she said.

“It’s a feeling I never thought I would experience,” Gerarde-Niles said. “But I couldn’t be more proud of my son.”

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