ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Kicking off observances for the Army 239th birthday, Army leaders paid tribute to the service's first commander-in-chief, and presented Purple Hearts to two Soldiers.
Secretary of the Army John McHugh and Sgt. Maj. of the Army Raymond F. Chandler III laid a wreath at President George Washington's tomb at his Mount Vernon estate here.
The Army's birthday is June 14.
"As we mark 239 years since the Second Continental Congress first established this Army and the appointment soon after of Virginia farmer George Washington as its first commander-in-chief, there's simply no more fitting place to celebrate and commemorate our history and our traditions," McHugh said.
There is no better way to honor the Army's history than by recognizing the Soldiers who continue to write that story through their service and sacrifice, McHugh said, before awarding Purple Hearts to Staff Sgt. Joseph Hamilton and Sgt. Peter Francis.
"We are honored, indeed we are blessed, to have two of those American Soldiers here today, two Soldiers who through their actions on the battlefield have earned the right to wear the Purple Heart," he said, noting that fellow wounded warriors were in attendance at the event.
It was a "phenomenal experience" to meet both of the Purple Heart recipients, knowing their actions in combat and their service and sacrifice to the nation, Chandler said.
"We're recognizing two great American warriors who have been wounded on the field of battle," Chandler said. "I'm very proud of them and their families, and really all other Soldiers who are in service to the nation right now or who have served in the past."
Hamilton, who joined the Army in 2004, suffered traumatic brain injury and had past injuries aggravated from an improvised explosive device blast in Afghanistan in 2012.
Based out of Fort Drum, New York, he served some 40 months of combat deployments with the 10th Mountain Division and is the recipient of a Bronze Star with Valor for battlefield heroism, said McHugh. This Purple Heart is his third.
"Joe, to you and your wife Janette, thank you both so very much for your selfless sacrifice, for your service - and please, no more Purple Hearts," McHugh said.
Francis, a Brooklyn, New York, native, joined the Army in 2009 and deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. He was shot in the spine and paralyzed in 2013 in Afghanistan.
"Sgt. Francis continues his recovery at Walter Reed and is assigned to Battle Company of the Warrior Transition Brigade," McHugh said, recognizing the family members who joined Francis at the event. "Thank you, sir, for your selfless sacrifice and your heroism."
Mount Vernon is a fitting site to award the Purple Heart, since the estate is the starting point for the nation's Purple Heart trail - a "network of roadways all across our 50 states where we pay tribute to the men and women of our armed forces who have been awarded the Purple Heart," McHugh said.
The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by Washington, Chandler noted.
McHugh and Chandler paid tribute to Soldiers who have served since the inception of the Army to present day.
"Our celebrations are ever tempered by reminders of the tremendous sacrifices made by those who have fought our wars, who pledged their lives and spilled their blood in service to our nation and our way of life," McHugh said.
The current generation is indeed being rightfully hailed as the next 'Greatest Generation' because of the service and sacrifice of Soldiers like Hamilton and Francis and all those who have chosen to wear the uniform, he said.
"As our Army celebrates 239 years of service defending this great nation and its values, Soldiers like this give me hope, truly they give me confidence for a future that will be as glorious and free as our past," he said.
The valor, courage and sacrifice displayed by the "extraordinary men and women who served this nation in Iraq and to this very moment continue to serve in Afghanistan, is as remarkable and awe-inspiring as that of any who have gone before," McHugh said.
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