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Remembering the heroes

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HELICOPTER HERO:Janet Riggle displays aplaque her late husband John Riggle received for outstanding performance of duty in the 334th Armed Helicopter Company during the Vietnam War.
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MEDALS FOR HEROISM: Late Army veteran, John Riggle, received a Bronze Star and three Purple Hearts during his one-year tour in Vietnam.

BY Paige Conley - pconley@perutribune.com

Miami County resident Janet Riggle honors National Purple Heart Day by sharing the memory of her late husband and helping other Purple Heart recipients.

National Purple Heart Day is Aug. 7, and acts as a time for Americans to remember those who were either wounded in battle or died in combat actions.

Janet’s late husband, John Riggle, was an Officer Candidate School graduate, Army veteran and three-time Purple Heart recipient.

He was a first lieutenant for a reconnaissance platoon during the Vietnam War, and received his first Purple Heart in August 1966 after he was injured during a firefight.

According to Janet, the enemy was in a circle, and it was the recon platoon’s job to go in and open the circle up for the battalion, who was supposed to follow the recon team.

However, the battalion got held up in the jungle and wasn’t able to make it before the circle closed around the platoon.

John was able to crawl under enemy fire and make it to a bunker along with several other men.

“He went in with 34 men and four came out alive,” Janet said. “It took them three days to get our four guys out.”

During the firefight, John was shot in the leg and hand.

Afterward, John Riggle received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star for saving the men he did.

He also received his Combat Infantry Badge, even though he hadn’t been in country for 30 days yet.

Following the incident, John switched from the recon platoon and began co-piloting a helicopter.

“He flew 59 hours and 81 combat missions,” Janet said.

In January 1967, John received his second Purple Heart after his helicopter was shot down.

John went to the hospital after the incident and then went AWOL for a week to fly to Hawaii to see Janet who was almost nine months pregnant with their daughter.

Janet can’t recall how John received his third Purple Heart, but she was grateful he shared his experiences with her.

“There were so many stories that he told us that I am so thankful for,” Janet said.

John spent one year in Vietnam before coming back to the U.S. to watch his daughters grow up. He joined the Army Reserves for one year and was promoted to Captain.

It wasn’t until years later the Riggles found out about the Purple Hearts Group.

The group consists of a group of veterans who have been awarded the Purple Heart and meet once a month to raise money for veterans in need and share their combat experiences.

John became so invested in the group he was appointed the Purple Hearts Commander for four years, as well as the Vice-Commander for the State of Indiana for two years.

“He thought so much of the Purple Heart and loved every one of the guys in it,” Janet said. “He signed me and our three daughters up as auxiliary members of the Purple Heart.”

Even though John passed away last December at the age of 73, Janet still goes to the Purple Heart meetings every third Saturday of the month at 1:00 p.m. in the Grissom Air Museum.

There are around 45 veterans involved in the group and they are always looking for more veterans to join.

“We would really like to get the younger group in,” Janet said. “I think they would find comfort out there.”

The group not only lends comfort and support to their fellow veterans, but they hold several fundraisers to raise money for different veteran groups, veterans in need and flowers to donate at funerals among other things.

They also have different speakers to come in and talk with the veterans about what they are entitled to and where they can go for assistance.

There are several Purple Heart Groups across Indiana and even across the country.

It’s a way for veterans – specifically Purple Heart recipients – to engage with others who understand what they went through and support one another.

“I think it’s important because our veterans need all of the support they can get,” Janet said. “The group has a place where they can come to and share their experiences and their needs.”

Janet wants to see the Purple Heart group grow and continue to lend support to the veteran community. She also said she hopes more people will become aware of National Purple Heart Day and remember sacrifices of the veterans who are decorated with the medal.