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Remembering veteran of 'forgotten war'

Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez never recovered Purple Heart before death, but family carried on his mission

Published: Friday, Aug. 8, 2014 9:49 p.m. CST
Caption
(Heidi Litchfield - hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
Congressman Adam Kinzinger (right), R-Channahon, presents Tony Ramirez the purple heart awarded to his father, Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez, who was wounded in action March 17, 1953, in the Korean Conflict.
Caption
(Heidi Litchfield - hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
The wife and sister of Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez look at the purple heart and award presented to them Friday night at the Morris American Legion. After Ramirez lost his original medal he wrote letters the rest of his life trying to get it replaced. His son, Tony, was able to get it for the family after working with Congressman Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon.
Caption
(Heidi Litchfield - hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
Tony Ramirez of Morris received his father, Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez's, Purple Heart on Friday after writing letters for years trying to get it replaced.
Caption
(Heidi Litchfield - hlitchfield@shawmedia.com)
The family of Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez gathered at the American Legion in Morris to accept the Purple Heart presented by Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, on Friday.

MORRIS – When Rudolph Ramirez was growing up in Chicago he was proud of his country, so when the Korean Conflict started he talked his mother into signing papers for him to go off and serve in the U.S. Army.

"Our mom signed the papers because he was too young," his sister Sylvia Silva said. "The whole neighborhood came together to carry him as he left for the airport."

After enlisting, Ramirez volunteered to go to Korea where a grenade was thrown into his foxhole, according to his son.

"Everyone in the foxhole was dead, they started to take his dog tags off and he groaned," Silva said. "My mom had received a letter that he was missing in action and then Red Cross called to say he was being transferred for medical care."

Ramirez's son, Tony, of Morris said his dad had shrapnel in his head and he was sent home with medals, including the Purple Heart. But like many returning from war, Pfc. Ramirez suffered from mental difficulties and while he was moving around he lost his purple heart.

"After my dad went to the VA and met with a doctor and got on meds he became very stable and married my mom," Tony said. "It was then he started writing to the government asking to have his Purple Heart replaced."

Unfortunately, a warehouse in St. Louis that held the records caught fire and the documents were destroyed. Ramirez spent the rest of his life trying to regain the Purple Heart.

In 1994, Ramirez passed away while living in Bolingbrook and his son, Tony, started the campaign to get the medal in honor of his father.

Tony reached out to Congressman Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, when he was elected because he knew Kinzinger was a veteran himself.

"I knew he was a veteran and I thought maybe he could help," Tony said. "It's a big deal to me."

On Friday evening, the family of Pfc. Rudolph Ramirez came together at the Morris American Legion Post 294 to receive the Purple Heart from Kinzinger, who worked for the family to replace the medal.

"It's the best part of my job to be here to honor someone who represented our country," Kinzinger told the family who had gathered. "Korea is often called the forgotten war because it was between World War II and Vietnam, but Korea is not forgotten for the Army and not for the 50 million Koreans in Korea today."

Kinzinger described what it was like in South Korea, having just returned from a visit there and told the family how honorable it was that Pfc. Ramirez fought there.

"When we can get the medals back it's an honor to present them," Kinzinger said. "It's tough for me though. I know the sacrifice, and while it's always an honor it's tough emotionally."

After Tony accepted the award he looked around the room at the dozens of family members gathered and told them it is the power of his father that brought them all together.

"All he wanted was to love and support his family," he said. "This was the brick wall he couldn't get over."

He said as a small boy he asked his dad once if he would do it all over again, and his father said definitely.

Silva said he was so patriotic that on his days off he would go to the VA hospital and give the guys hair cuts.

When asked what he would do when he retired he said he would volunteer at the VA Hospital and take the men for walks outside who normally couldn't go, he just wanted to be a friend to them.

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