Russell’s Purple Heart: Memoirs and Musings of Russell D. Ward, Purple Heart Recipient and Patriot (CreateSpace, 210 pp. paper; $4.89, Kindle) delivers exactly what its title offers. Russell D. Ward (with the help of Colleen Fitzgerald McCoy) tells his life story in the first three-quarters of the book. The rest consists of Ward’s explanation of his solutions to a dozen current worldwide problems.
Drafted into the Army in 1966, Russell Ward went to Vietnam the following year as a machine gunner on an armored personnel carrier. After six months, he was reassigned to an infantry company. Shot during the battle for Hue in 1968, Ward was shipped home when his wound did not improve “quickly enough.” Shortly before he was wounded, he recalls that “there were only three of us left of the twelve who started out in my third squad.”
The Vietnam War provided Ward with grisly and long-lasting memories. He describes the mutilation of enemy bodies in detail and wonders “why we had to act like such barbarians.” He talks of the deaths of comrades and the resultant punishment that battle survivors meted out against villages and people suspected of being Viet Cong.
“I have heard that a man is only as good as what he has gone through—that his life experiences form his character,” Ward writes. “This statement makes me believe that we, as veterans of war, who fought for our country, experienced these things for a reason and for some good purpose. At the very least, our experiences have taught us to be tough enough to keep on surviving. No matter what. I know that I have had my heartbreaks, just like everyone. But through all my struggles and heartbreaks, I have believed in myself because of my trust in the Lord to overcome the low points in my life. Vietnam taught me that.”
Early in the book, Ward paints picturesque scenes of growing up in West Buffalo, New York, during the 1950s and early 1960s. He takes pleasure in remembering fist fights with rival neighborhood gangs and pegging the speedometer of his ’58 Chevy. In every way, he enjoyed taking chances.
He returned to Buffalo after the war and found it difficult to cope with the changing social values. He fell back into the habit of taking chances. He experienced business and marital problems, depression, residual pain from his wound, and drug abuse. “My brain,” he says, “was cooked at the age of twenty-seven.”
Ward’s emotional burden lightened during his passage through middle age as the result of a successful second marriage and a quarter-century career with the U.S. Postal Service. Following retirement, he found a calling in promoting the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
This book was difficult to read because Ward’s suffering often resulted from his own mistakes, which he admits. He repeatedly fell for get-rich-quick schemes that I found frustrating because of their transparency. Nevertheless, I admire Russell Ward’s ability to restart his life after repeated crashes.
The author’s web site is www.russellpurpleheart.com