U.S. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell presented the Purple Heart Medal to Sergeant Jesse T. Wethington of Liberty, Kentucky, during a ceremony at the VFW Post in Middletown on Saturday, April 5, 2014. The following are Senator McConnell’s remarks:
“Thank you for that kind introduction. Thank you, General Dolan, for the invocation. It is my great honor to be here for the presentation of the Purple Heart Medal to Sergeant Jesse T. Wethington of Liberty, Kentucky, for wounds received in action while in service to our country in Iraq. It is an honor that is long overdue.
“Because we are here to recognize the service of a brave soldier, it is fitting to be at VFW Post 1170. I want to thank our hosts, led by VFW Post Commander Dwight Riggle. I also want to thank VFW State Commander Joe Schnitterbaum and VFW leaders Brian Duffy and Carl Kaelin for all they have done in support of America’s veterans.
“It’s a pleasure to have Chris Smrt and the Kentucky chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart here today to welcome Sergeant Wethington into their ranks. Chris and the Military Order of the Purple Heart, like the VFW, are strong advocates for our veterans.
“And on this day when we’re honoring a Kentucky Guardsman, it’s wonderful to see so many Kentucky Guard soldiers and airmen here today, including our outstanding Adjutant General, Ed Tonini.
“Finally, I’d like to welcome the folks who came here from Jesse’s hometown of Liberty, including Jesse’s wife, Ashley; his daughter, Hannah; his mother, Gayle; Jesse’s brother, Chris, and Chris’s wife, Dorothy; Jesse’s mother-in-law, Mrs. Hope Metz; Casey County Attorney Tom Weddle; and Liberty VFW Post Commander and former State VFW Commander Claude Wyatt. Welcome to VFW Post 1170.
“The original Purple Heart, also known as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by George Washington himself, and as such, the Purple Heart is the oldest existing military award that is still given to servicemembers.
“I think the commander of the Continental Army and our first president can speak better than I to the courage and bravery which this award represents. In July of 1776, at the outbreak of the War for Independence, General Washington wrote in his own hand the weight of the task that had befallen him and his army. He said:
The fate of unborn millions will now depend, under God, on the courage and conduct of this Army…we have therefore to resolve to conquer or die.…Let us therefore rely upon the goodness of the cause, and the aid of the Supreme Being, in whose hands victory is, to animate and encourage us to great and noble actions. The eyes of all our countrymen are now upon us.
“That same patriotism—that same Spirit of ’76—which was embodied by the leader of the Revolutionary Army lives on today in those in uniform such as Jesse. Perhaps that is inevitable in Jesse’s case, given that he hails from a place called Liberty, a town founded by Revolutionary War veterans in 1806.
“Although warfare has changed dramatically since the Revolutionary Era, the valor of our warfighters, such as Jesse, remains the same. That valor would have been instantly recognizable to George Washington.
“It is the same valor that propelled Americans to victory against the mighty British Empire. The same valor that propelled Americans to die for other men’s freedoms in the Civil War. The same valor we remember in the Greatest Generation, men and women who sacrificed halfway around the globe to save democracy. The same valor displayed in Cold War conflicts in Korea and Vietnam.
“Sergeant Wethington’s service is simply the latest chapter in a long and unbroken line of heroism and sacrifice, a line that is as old as our country.
“The story of Jesse Wethington, the soldier from Liberty, is like that of those who served in the Revolutionary War—it is the story of a volunteer. Jesse could have chosen any number of paths, paths that would not have involved protecting “the fate of unborn millions,” paths that would not have placed him in imminent danger.
“Instead, Jesse volunteered to serve in the Kentucky Army National Guard. He volunteered to go on the road in a Humvee that would be targeted by the enemy in Iraq. He volunteered to sit in the gunner’s turret. And even after his injury in combat, Jesse volunteered again to sit right back in that gunner’s turret through the end of his tour of duty.
“Jesse was mobilized with Battery B, First Battalion, 623rd Field Artillery of the Kentucky Army National Guard in late 2004, and he deployed to Iraq in January 2005. He served as a communications specialist and worked in the tactical operations center at the forward operating base.
In his communications role, Jesse had a view of his entire unit’s activities. He saw the gun trucks and Humvees that deployed every day, and how often they were targeted by the enemy’s IEDs. He saw good men, friends of his, injured. He saw the deaths of three soldiers in his unit, Kentuckians all.
“Knowing these things, knowing all the risks involved, Jesse still volunteered. And when a spot opened up in a gun truck, Jesse stepped forward and said, “Send me.” Jesse volunteered yet again to serve as a gunner. He encountered several IEDs on the road, but always came away uninjured. Until the fateful day of September 30, 2005.
“On that day, Jesse’s Humvee was moving slowly through congested traffic as part of a convoy. It stopped, and Jesse stood up in the gunner’s hatch to direct traffic. Suddenly, an IED struck the right side of the truck with devastating force. The impact from the blast was so great it sent shrapnel hurdling through the back window, just missing Jesse’s right leg and embedding itself into a storage bin within the Humvee.
“Jesse suffered injury to his throat and the back of his head. After the explosion, he could not hear, and his vision and thoughts were blurred. Yet, amazingly, he continued his mission. Upon returning to the base, Jesse received medical care, and after a few days of light duty returned to the gunner’s turret. He finished out his tour of duty through the end of the year and returned from Iraq in January 2006.
“Unfortunately, Jesse’s departure from the battlefield didn’t end his struggles. He suffered traumatic brain injury, hearing loss, and post-traumatic stress disorder, and he is continually confronted by the effects of his injuries.
“Through all these difficulties, I know Jesse’s greatest source of strength and support is his family, especially, Ashley and Hannah.
“Coincidentally, the very same day Jesse found out he would be receiving this Purple Heart, he and Ashley also discovered they would be having a baby boy. It is entirely fitting that news of both events arrived on the same day, given Jesse’s valor in defending the “fate of unborn millions.”
“Before the presentation of the Purple Heart Medal, I want to note that there is another hero in this story. It’s Jesse’s friend and fellow soldier, retired Staff Sergeant Glen Phillips, who we heard from earlier this morning.
“It was Staff Sergeant Phillips who gathered the facts in order for Jesse to receive his Purple Heart today. Glen, who is also from Liberty, has helped look out for Jesse and many other veterans over the years.
“When Jesse told Glen he didn’t think anyone would care that he had yet to receive his Purple Heart, this is what Glen had to say: ‘Jesse, I care, the VA cares, the U.S. Army cares, and people you don’t even know care across this great land.’
“I couldn’t agree more. I think the witnesses here today for this solemn occasion are proof positive that Kentucky does indeed care and cares deeply about you, Jesse, and your bravery in uniform. And we are grateful for all you have done and continue to do to make us proud.
“And I believe that many people who are not present today—including, one day, your son—will see how you served in Iraq with dignity and honor, will see that you continue to carry yourself with dignity and honor here at home, and will see the Purple Heart proclamation of your heroism. And they too will be moved by your service and your sacrifice.
“The presentation of this Purple Heart Medal is just a small recognition of the wealth of respect you deserve for your service to our country. Your service in protecting all of us. And your service to the values that make America the greatest nation on earth—values expressed by General Washington and the men who founded a place called Liberty more than two centuries ago.
“Now, the solemn moment we’re gathered here today for has arrived. Sergeant Jesse T. Wethington, Ashley, and Hannah—please join me for the reading of the proclamation and the presentation of the Purple Heart Medal.”