Branson to honor Purple Heart Recipients

Purple Heart Recipients Ray Wheeler,
left, and Aaron Wintterle speaking at
press conference.

Branson, Missouri has its entertainment stars that receive well deserved public acknowledgement and honor, virtually on a daily basis, for their talent and public performances in front of huge audiences at Branson’s shows and entertainment venues. Yet, on a daily basis, Branson has “Hero’s,” who silently and privately walk among us, receiving no public acknowledgement or honor for their sacrifice and the injuries they received in the service of their country.

These Heroes, for the most part, served out of the public’s eye in places like Vietnam, Iraq, Afghanistan, Korea, Normandy, Iwo Jima, Pearl Harbor, and too many other places to possibly name, but they all have something in common. That service was performed in the defense of their country and in the performance of that service they were wounded in combat and awarded the “Purple Heart” for that sacrifice.

The neat thing about Branson and its entertainment community is that the honoring of America’s veterans and active duty military personnel and their families is part of its very heart beat. As a group however, Branson, and probably no other place in the country, has made an effort to honor the men and women who have been awarded the “Purple Heart.”

At a recent press conference Marlyce Stockinger, Director of Public Relations and Advertising, Branson.Com, announced the specific details of an event designed to do exactly that. The event, sponsored by Branson.Com, is entitled “Hand-in-Hand Branson Honors Purple Heart Recipients” and will be held at various locations throughout the Branson Area on Apr. 24 and 25 and is part of Branson’s celebration of “Ozark Mountain Spring.”

Stockinger, emotionally reading from a prepared script, described two specific instances where a member of America’s Armed Forces received the Purple Heart for injuries received while in combat. She graphically described the combat service of U.S. Marine sniper Aaron Wintterle when he was shot in the face while serving in Bagdad, Iraq. In the same manner she described the U.S. Army service of Ray Wheeler during the Vietnam War and how he was shot nine times resulting in not only being awarded three Purple Hearts, but a Bronze Star and the Republic of Vietnam Service Medal.

In both instances she described the price of that service in terms the immediate medical procedures necessary to save and preserve their lives. Too, she went on to describe the continuing price that they pay on an almost daily basis as they continue to recover from both the physical and mental effects of their service.

When she finished, Stockinger introduced Aaron Wintterle of Mt. Vernon and Ray Wheeler of Reeds Spring who walked out on the stage to a standing ovation. Strangely, well perhaps not so strangely, these wounded warriors did not come to talk about themselves or their own experiences. They had shared their stories with Stockinger, permitted her to use them, and were present because they believed in the event could be of benefit to other Purple Heart Recipients and to encourage their attendance.

Larry Milton, co-owner of Branson.Com and Branson Tourism Center with his wife Lianne, thanked Wintterle and Wheeler, not only for their service to their country, but for being there to “remind us of what we should be so thankful for.” Stockinger suggested that the unique and inspirational “Purple Mountain Majesty Twilight Ceremony” at Branson Landing at April 25 from 6:00 p.m. to 7:00 p.m. would provide an excellent opportunity for the public to display that thankfulness and honor the Purple Heart Recipients by attending and participating.

She said the Purple Heart Recipients will gather at the parking lot at Bass Pro Shops at 5:30 p.m. on April 25 and walk the promenade lined with members of the public on both sides holding candles. After walking the promenade, the Purple Heart Recipients and the public will share in a moving ceremony at the Branson Landing Fountains. The featured speaker will be “9-11 Pentagon” survivor Sergeant Major Tony Rose (ret.).

Stockinger emphasized that all the activities connected with “Hand-in-Hand Branson Honors Purple Heart Recipients” are free to Purple Heart Recipients and that a full list of activities is available on line at either the Branson.Com or Branson Tourism Center websites. She encourages the active participation of all Purple Heart Recipients in the event and said she is available to answer questions and provide assistance by phone at 417-334-2360.