Olympian Harvey Drahos Awarded with Purple Heart 78 Years Later


United States Army veteran Harvey Drahos, now 100 years old, just recently received a Purple Heart medal that he earned after being wounded in the World War II Battle of Okinawa when he was 22. After many decades of trying to settle the record, he was finally awarded the medal in a September 30 ceremony at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater. Surrounded by many of the people who helped him along the journey in getting recognition for his military record, he was finally and properly honored.

Purple Heart Recognizes Great Sacrifice in Service of the Country

If a United States service member of any rank has been wounded or killed in enemy action, that service member is eligible for a Purple Heart medal. Tracing its roots to a preceding award first created in the late 18th century, the Purple Heart retains its hue and silhouette of George Washington echoing back to the purple fabric of the Badge of Merit created by Washington himself.

Drahos was injured in the Battle of Okinawa in 1945 and nearly lost his life. He suffered traumatic brain injury from a concussion, and his wrist was wounded from shrapnel. With nearly fatal injuries, he received last rites in an Army field hospital.

Drahos served from March 1943 to February 1964 and during his career earned a long list of awards including:

  • Bronze Star
  • World War II Victory Medal
  • Combat Infantry Badge
  • Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal
  • Philippine Liberation Medal
  • World War II Honorable Service Button

Missing was the Purple Heart.

black and white photo of Harvey Drahos during WWII in the field sitting with fellow soldiers
Harvey Drahos suffered a near fatal injury while serving in the 1945 Battle of Okinawa in the Army 96th Infantry division. Photo courtesy: Harvey Drahos

Purple Heart Medal Delay Solved through Public Support

Drahos’s discharge papers incorrectly listed him in the 90th regiment instead of the correct listing of 96th infantry. A fire in the National Personnel Records Center in Missouri increased the challenge in getting the detail sorted out. Drahos was eligible for the Purple Heart medal, but his incorrect discharge papers prevented the award.

Two United States senators, three U.S. representatives, organizations and friends tried to help set the record straight. Fellow Kiwanis Club of North Thurston member Karen Schoessel was impressed with his life story, wanted to help solve the unawarded Purple Heart dilemma and helped bring the final pieces together. She sent Drahos’s past service documentation to U.S. Representative Marilyn Strickland’s office for another try.

black and white photo of Harvey Drahos in uniform
Incorrect Army discharge papers delayed Harvey Drahos from receiving a Purple Heart for 78 years. Photo courtesy: Harvey Drahos

“The Northwest Kiwanis was supportive,” Drahos says. “We had members there that took this task on, especially Karen from Kiwanis. She was really dedicated for one whole year with phone calls and emails. Eventually it ended up with the Secretary of the Army.”

Schoessel also helped facilitate communication between YouTube video creator Rishi Sharma who featured Drahos in Remember WWII with Rishi Sharma, a project dedicated to interviewing WWII combat veterans. The public also weighed in and joined the cause. Various news articles covered his story and drew attention to it. Representative Strickland honored him on the House floor in January of 2023, and even the City of Lacey recognized Drahos by proclaiming February 16, 2023 Harvey Drahos Day encouraging people to celebrate his January birthday and to learn more about WWII history and service members.

Harvey Drahos and Lieutenant General Xavier Brunson at the Olympic Flight Museum
On September 30, 2023, the Purple Heart was presented to Drahos by Lieutenant General Xavier Brunson from Joint Base Louis McChord at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser

Harvey Drahos: A Life Dedicated to Service

Discharged in 1946, Drahos dedicated his life to helping people after feeling moved to do so from surviving the battle in which he was wounded. He flew search and rescue for the Civil Air Patrol; served on boards of local and state organizations; and has been active in Kiwanis for 53 years, including service as president and lieutenant governor for a handful of clubs. Drahos has been a chiropractor, a motorcycle police officer, a pilot, a Rotarian, and he is the father of four children. He is the last surviving member of his unit, the 96th Infantry Division, The Deadeyes.

Drahos even extended the hand of service back to people in Japan. While in Okinawa, under fire and seeking cover, he found a photo album and kept it with him, seeing its value. The album from the battlefield contained 80 photographs. His nurse helped him connect with the right channels to get the album to its owners in Japan.

Fellow Kiwanis Club of North Thurston members attended the Purple Heart award ceremony at the Olympic Flight Museum. Shown here: Karen Schoessel, Harvey Drahos and Wendy Fraser. Photo courtesy: Wendy Fraser

Drahos Awarded Purple Heart at Olympic Flight Museum

Drahos’s military service documentation was sent to the Army Review Board Agency, which approved the Purple Heart request. On September 30, 2023, the Purple Heart was presented by Lieutenant General Xavier Brunson from Joint Base Lewis-McChord to Harvey Drahos at the Olympic Flight Museum in Tumwater.

“That was one of the greatest days of my life after 78 years, having that presented properly and officially,” Drahos says. “What it does is have my medical records and Army records up to date, and my grandchildren and great grandchildren will be able to appreciate WWII history.”

A long path to a well-deserved medal was finally complete. Thank you for your military and community service Harvey Drahos.

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