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Notre Dame grad’s Purple Heart revoked

Maddie Hanna | Thursday, January 13, 2005

U.S. Marine and 2000 Notre Dame graduate 1st Lt. Dustin Ferrell wants the process used to award Purple Hearts to change. Ferrell, 27, knows from personal experience. On Dec. 14, Ferrell received a letter from the U.S. Depart-ment of the Navy stating that the Purple Heart awarded to him March 31, 2003 would be revoked – nearly two years after he received the prestigious military decoration.”I feel that this has been handled very poorly. I don’t want it to happen to anyone else,” Ferrell said.According to Ferrell, he was originally awarded the medal for combat-related injuries suffered in southern Iraq the night of March 22, 2003.”It was the third day of the war,” he said of the event. “We were speeding north [in a Humvee] going 60, 70 miles per hour.”Ferrell, who doesn’t remember the actual accident, was told that a rocket-propelled grenade had hit his vehicle, killing the driver and wounding Ferrell and the two other passengers.”I broke most of the bones in my face, lost 14 teeth, shattered my jaw,” Ferrell said. After the event, he had a tracheotomy and was flown to Kuwait for two days that he spent in an induced coma, then to Germany after being stabilized.Several months after returning to his home in Vacaville, Calif., Ferrell found out from his battalion that the event was actually an accident.”But their understanding was that I still merited the award, according to Purple Heart criteria,” he said.However, according to the letter Ferrell received from the Department of the Navy, a copy of which was obtained by The Observer, his injuries were purely accidental and did not merit the medal.”Although your injury occurred during a combat operation, your command verified that your injury was the result of a vehicle accident and was not caused directly or indirectly by enemy action,” the letter stated.According to U.S. military guidelines that govern who receives the award, the medal is “awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.”Ferrell said that according to his knowledge, 10 other servicemen who were in Iraq also recently had their Purple Hearts revoked, including the other two passengers in his vehicle.”I don’t want my own medal reinstated. It would be odd for me to wear it after all this,” Ferrell said.But Ferrell has been working with U.S. Rep. Peter Visclosky, D-Ind., to get the medals reinstated for some of the others.”One [situation] that kind of got me going was a guy that got run over by a tank and had his medal taken away,” Ferrell said, noting that Purple Hearts are awarded in cases of friendly fire but not in an accident such as this.”They need to make sure that they know what they’re doing before they hand these things out,” Ferrell said.Ferrell said his main goal is to raise awareness of the problem faced by him, and the 10 others who lost their Purple Hearts, clarifying the criteria used to award the medal and changing the award process, if need be. “I don’t know what’s going to come of this, but I’m going to keep fighting,” Ferrell said.Ferrell, who participated in ROTC while at Notre Dame, said the school greatly affected his life.”Growing up at a place like Notre Dame really helped make me a better officer, a moral decision maker,” Ferrell said, adding that he converted to Catholicism in 1999.Ferrell never expected that war might break out and that the military would send him to Iraq. “War was the furthest thing from my mind,” he said. “You kind of get complacent.”Although Ferrell feels that after having his Purple Heart taken away he “might as well have been in a tough accident at home,” he doesn’t regret going to Iraq.”I know that it’s a possibility I might not have come home, and I’m very lucky,” he said.Ferrell now has a non-combat job as an assistant operations officer at Base Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.