Local Purple Heart vets honor Iraq War wounded

The Sheveport Times

Marine Corps Capt. Matthew Phillips survived terrorists’ 120mm mortar rounds in Fallujah, but he’d better watch out for the big wooden club wielded by Chris Kilgus.

Phillips arrived a few minutes late to receive his purple cap and membership Tuesday from Chapter 351 of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, drawing the ire of Kilgus, the chapter’s sergeant-at-arms.

“Get in that door on time, or else…,” Kilgus said, trying to stare down a Marine less than half his age and twice his weight.

“This is my one freebie, huh?” Phillips said as he sat down chastised, sort of.

He was honored by 16 veterans at Shreveport’s Highland Center, people who share something with him that few others in the city do. All have been wounded in action as members of the nation’s military.

The chapter issued a blanket invitation to local military members wounded in Iraq and Afghanistan, but timing may have limited their haul to Phillips, who was the only such veteran to show Tuesday. Of the handful of recently wounded veterans around, several have gone to help with Hurricane Katrina relief efforts.

Phillips said his unit will turn its drill this weekend into an effort to volunteer at area shelters. So the offer of free membership will be repeated, likely in October, to entice the missed veterans and those with the 256th Brigade soon to return from Iraq.

“Our guys are getting old and we need young blood,” said chapter President Richard Garner, a Vietnam War veteran.

Phillips, with Bossier City-based Bravo Co., 1/23rd Marines, largely has recovered from being wounded Nov. 10 in Fallujah. But before he was barraged by questions from the older veterans and their wives, he said he was honored to be numbered among their ranks.

“It’s interesting and awkward to think of myself in these terms,” he said when Garner praised him for his service. “Many of you men were wounded in actions I learned about in boot camp. It’s very humbling to come into the company of men who earned that medal.”

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