12 years after being injured in Afghanistan, Elgin man awarded with Purple Heart in ceremony – Chicago Tribune newstrendslive

Anthony Ortiz was serving with the U.S. Marine’s 3rd Battalion in the 5th Regiment of Sangin, Afghanistan, Dec. 27, 2010, when his security patrol vehicle was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

Everyone inside the vehicle was wounded.

Such an injury should have qualified the Elgin resident for Purple Heart medal but he never received one.

That was rectified Wednesday when, surrounded by family, friends, colleagues and dignitaries, Ortiz was presented with the honor by state Sen. Cristina Castro, D-Elgin, during a ceremony at Elgin’s American Legion Post No. 57.

U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth, who helped obtain the medal on Ortiz’s behalf, could not attend but sent a representative and a personal letter to Ortiz.

Purple Heart medals are awarded to active U.S. military service members who are wounded or killed as a result of enemy action. Anthony Ortiz has been waiting for 12 years to receive his honor, which was finally bestowed Wednesday during a ceremony in Elgin.

Ortiz called it a “sacred decoration,” and acknowledged his fellow Marines who died while serving during Operation Enduring Freedom.

“This decoration is bittersweet,” he said. “That is because it’s one decoration that is not awarded but earned.”

During his deployment in a place that he described as “hell on Earth,” he was shot at countless times, Ortiz said. His unit lost 25 Marines.

Purple Heart medals are presented to active U.S. military service members who are wounded or killed as a result of enemy action. The paperwork to award Ortiz the honor was initiated shortly after the rocket attack, but somehow got lost, Ortiz said.

When he told Castro in 2020 about his inability to obtain the award, she contacted Duckworth’s office for help, Castro said. The process took about two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she said.

“This medal is a small token symbolizing your great act of courage,” Castro said when presenting Ortiz with the decoration. “It is long overdue. Today I would like to say thank you.”

A Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and oldest symbols of the military, she said. Also known as the Badge of Military Merit, it’s been issued since 1932.

Veterans who have an ability to maintain their resolve and face the enemy no matter what the danger are courageous, she said. “This is a very important honor,” Castro said.

Elgin Mayor David Kaptain also spoke at the ceremony.

“This young man has integrity. He has a great heart,” Kaptain said. “He wants to do what’s best for the country and the city of Elgin. It’s an honor to be here today and support him. You did your service to this country. I thank you for that and it’s my pleasure to have you as my friend.”

Ortiz enlisted in the Marines in 2009 and, after completing boot camp and infantry school, he was deployed to Afghanistan in 2010, where he served until April 2011. He was honorably discharged in October 2013.

Since his return to Elgin, he actively campaigned to get city recognition for fellow Marine Alex Martinez, a corporal who died in Afghanistan in April 2012 — the first Elgin service member to die combat since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

In addition to an honorary street designation in front of Martinez’s South Melrose Avenue home in 2019, the U.S. Post Office in Elgin now bears Martinez’s name.

Ortiz is also a candidate for the Elgin City Council in the upcoming April election.

“Few possess the integrity and bravery to put their lives on the line each day for complete strangers,” Castro said. “That’s what makes today’s presentation to Mr. Ortiz such an important occasion. He is a true hero.”

Gloria Casas is a freelance reporter for The Courier-News.

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