Coalville veteran to receive belated Purple Heart
After serving in Vietnam and going through a 43-year emotional roller coaster ride, Coalville resident and veteran Philip Geary will finally hold his much-deserved Purple Heart award.
Geary will be receiving the military honor this Wednesday, July 3, from Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch. Diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder shortly after returning from Vietnam, Geary did not initially want the award. The act of bravery that won him the honor involved Geary taking wounds from shrapnel and picking up the dead bodies of his fallen comrades.
"Although I deserved it and I earned it, it’s just under those circumstances, you’re asking me if I want I Purple Heart when I just loaded three dead bodies all blown to pieces," Geary said.
PTSD had been taking its toll on Geary ever since he returned from overseas, and it wasn’t until 2007 that he even applied for the Purple Heart. At the time, he was seeing a therapist at the Department of Veterans Affairs.
"My therapist said I needed to get over it [PTSD]. So the only way to get over it was to apply for the Purple Heart," Geary said.
Geary started his tour of duty in Vietnam as a sergeant but soon became a squad leader. His group became the company’s recon team, earning the nickname "Easy Rider."
"It was a million-dollar experience you wouldn’t give a nickel for," Geary said.
When Geary initially applied for the Purple Heart in 2007, he was denied by the Army Review Boards Agency, which said that his shrapnel wounds may not have occurred during a combat situation. After being denied, Geary sought out his retired company commander, who wrote up a form requesting a Purple Heart. Sen. Hatch’s office then took up the request and the Secretary of the Army overrode the Board’s previous decision.
Despite the bravery and sacrifice shown by Geary during his service, his time back in the United States was tough right off the bat. In her letters, his wife Trudy did not prepare him for the public backlash against the war in Vietnam. Upon his return, it seemed like he fell out of the frying pan and into the fire.
"When he came home and flew into Fort Lewis, Washington, he was spit at and called a baby killer," Trudy said.
She had earlier sent Philip civilian clothes so that he would not be walking around in his Army fatigues all the time.
"She walked up to me with tears in her eyes and said, ‘Go change your clothes,’" Geary said.
Geary originally received two bronze stars and an Air Medal after his service, but after realizing the public’s sentiment about the war, he started not to care about them.
"His medals that he brought home, I was proud of them so I framed them. He took them all out of the frame and gave them to the kids to play with," Trudy said.
Geary also found civilian life extremely challenging. Drafted for Vietnam because he dropped out of his final semester of college, he was afraid to go back to school because he feared he wouldn’t be able to get a job. Many employers refused to hire him after they heard he was a Vietnam veteran.
"As soon as they found out he came from Vietnam they just shut down the interview," Trudy said.
Geary ended up getting a job with Associated Foods but had other problems adjusting.
"For a while I couldn’t go hunting, it drove me nuts. I can still hear a helicopter coming before anyone else can hear it," Geary said.
During the incident which won him the Purple Heart, Geary’s hearing was affected. He also was hit in the hand by a helicopter skid, which required surgery. That’s when the nurse who was helping him at the VA noticed he may be suffering from PTSD. Geary uses his positive experience with the VA to stress their importance, despite massive public criticism of the department.
"They do care. You always hear a bad rap about the VA. You may have to wait a little bit longer than a regular doctor, but you couldn’t ask for better care than they provide," Geary said.
Both Philip and Trudy noted that after Vietnam the VA did not provide adequate mental evaluations for veterans upon their return.
"I just think that when the veterans get out now they should go through a mental and physical [evaluation] so that this stuff can be caught in time," Trudy said. "It’s such a pattern, and it lasts a whole lifetime."
Philip helps out at his son Jeremy’s auto parts business in Coalville and it is obvious Jeremy is enormously proud of his dad. The ceremony will be an emotional one.
"I’m very excited about it. He definitely deserves it," Jeremy said. "I’m really disappointed in the government and the way they treat our military. He’s just one of probably many that have had this same thing happen."
Jeremy also brought up the fact that Philip often assists veterans in the area, teaching them the ropes of the VA and how to get the help they need. Philip is a member of American Legion Post 93.
"It’s the greatest honor there is to have someone that’s sacrificed like he has," Jeremy said.
Along with being presented the Purple Heart, Geary will be given a Soldiers Medal, an Army Commendation Medal, a Good Conduct Medal and a Vietnam Service Medal.
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