Recognition at last

Local veteran waited 78 years to receive his Purple Heart

By J.M. Simpson on October 6, 2023

It took over three quarters of a century for Harvey Drahos, a World War II Army veteran, to receive his Purple Heart for wounds he suffered during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945.

"It's unbelievable, just unbelievable," the century old former corporal said before the beginning of a celebration attended by about 150 friends and officials at the Olympic Flight Museum Sept. 30.  "And can you believe it - in five months I will be 101 years old," he said with a chuckle.

The battle for the island  was the largest amphibious assault conducted by soldiers and Marines in the Pacific. During the fighting, Corporal Drahos suffered serious shrapnel wounds and head trauma. 

"I told the good Lord, ‘If I can survive this, I'll dedicate my life to helping people,'" Drahos recalled.  "And that's what I've done."

He has - and continues - to honor that promise. He has managed emergency services, legally represented patients, helped other veterans, assisted in the activation of a military service center, flown Search and Rescue (SAR) for the Air Force Auxiliary, served on numerous community and state boards and foundations, and has been a member of the North Thurston Kiwanis in Lacey, for 53 years.

But during his long life of post war service to others, Drahos had never received his Purple Heart.

His World War II service left him with shrapnel wounds to his right wrist, brain damage from a severe concussion and post-traumatic stress disorder. Due to a series of clerical and bureaucratic bungles made in 1946, the Department of Defense did not award Drahos the medal presented to those wounded or killed in combat.

Matters only became worse when a fire on  July 12, 1973  destroyed between 16 and 18 million military personnel files at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Missouri.

Drahos' records were among the ashes; he was informed that his military records could not be restored. In his attempts to gain recognition for his service, he was told that a fair determination on his Purple Heart application could not be made unless he could prove otherwise.

"It took me 68 years to get my health benefits," he explained, "and I qualify for a Purple Heart. But in my many attempts to be recognized for that, they would just say ‘no.'"

When fellow Kiwanian Karen Schoessel learned in 2015 of Drahos' decades long struggle to receive his Purple Heart, she undertook the task of sorting through binders full of documentation in order to prove that he had earned it. 

"He richly deserves his Purple Heart; he is a hero," she said.

In October 2022, Schoessel shared volumes of documentation with Congresswoman Marilyn Strickland, who pursued his case through all the appropriate military and political channels - to no avail. But then after several recent local newspaper articles and a video on Drahos' efforts went viral,  Schoessel resubmitted the documentation of Drahos' service to the Military Records Board approval.

On this past Aug. 29, Drahos received notification that he would finally receive his Purple Heart.

On Saturday afternoon, Lt. Gen. Xavier Brunson, Commander, I Corps, Joint Base Lewis-McChord, proudly pinned it on his chest.

"He is a deserving member of the United States Army, and I am honored to be in his presence; my biography pales in comparison to his."