SIERRA VISTA, Ariz. — An Arizona veteran who received a Purple Heart after being wounded in Iraq has given part of his award to U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords.
Al Lee said the Arizona congresswoman, who is recovering after being shot in the head outside a Tucson supermarket two months ago, was wounded in the line of duty — just like he was in 2003 when he was an Army National Guard sergeant.
"There has to be a way to recognize such a person. She was wounded in the line of duty and there is no special recognition for her or others," said Lee, who is the commander of the Sierra Vista chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Lee, 53, travelled to Giffords' office Tucson on Wednesday. He presented the special coin to one of Giffords' staff members, Pam Simon, who was among the 13 people wounded in the Jan. 8 rampage that left six dead.
Giffords' press secretary C.J. Karamargin plans to present it to Giffords this weekend in her hospital room in Houston, where she continues to undergo rehabilitation.
The coin is engraved on the back with Lee's rank and name, his unit of service the 855th Military Police Company and the date of his wounds — Sept. 28, 2003 — from an improvised explosive device near Fallujah.
Lee told the Sierra Vista Herald that he suffers from hearing loss and a post-traumatic brain injury caused by the device.
He said he has met Giffords several times before. He said the congresswoman searched him out when she knew he was on the same flight or at the same events, asking him his views on military matters.
"She always recognized me as a person," Lee told the newspaper.
Now, he wants to recognize Giffords, saying she was on the front lines as a member of Congress while meeting with her constituents when she was shot.
Currently, when a member of the military receives the Purple Heart, the presentation includes the medal, lapel pin and coin.
In the past, the medal was awarded to civilians who were wounded while supporting U.S. forces during combat. About 100 were presented from 1942 to 1977 with the medal going to government employees, Red Cross workers and war correspondents.
In 1997, Congress forbade any future award of the Purple Heart Medal to any civilian, who now can receive the Defense of Freedom Medal.
Information from: Sierra Vista Herald, www.svherald.com