Nearly 50 people gathered Thursday morning on the steps of the Daviess County Courthouse to watch Sergeant Bradley Ausbrook receive a Purple Heart, the oldest military decoration in the world still awarded today and the first American award available to the common soldier.
On Sept. 7, 2008, Ausbrook and other members of his unit stationed in Iraq encountered an improvised explosive device that detonated within 10 meters of the unit’s traveling vehicle. Luckily, no one was seriously injured but later Ausbrook and two other members involved in the explosion were diagnosed with concussions. “By the grace of God everyone in my unit came home,” he said.
Originally called the Badge of Military Merit by General George Washington, the medal ceased to be awarded from 1782, after Continental Congress informed Washington there were no funds to pay soldiers or officers for new appointments after earning the award, until 1932 when the honor was brought back by President Herbert Hoover to honor the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth. The revived medal, now called the Purple Heart, was designed by Elizabeth Will, an Army heraldic specialist. On May 28, 1932, at Temple Hill, site of the New Windsor Cantonment, 138 WW I veterans were presented with Purple Hearts.
Over the years, the criteria for receiving a Purple Heart has changed. Originally, the Purple Heart was only awarded to Army and Army Air Corps personnel and could not be awarded posthumously to the next of kin. It was not until 1942, that President Franklin Roosevelt signed an executive order allowning the Navy to award the Purple Heart to Sailors, Marines, and the Coast Guard. The same executive order also allowed the Purple Heart to be given posthumously to any military member killed on or after December 7, 1941.
Ausbrook, who has eight years of service in both the National Guard and Marines, volunteered to deploy with a local unit of the Indiana Guard but he was actually involved with a unit based in Illinois. “I just thought if I went somebody else could stay home,” said Ausbrook.
All the members of Ausbrooks’ unit have received the Purple Heart but Ausbrook was awarded his much later than the others because his deployment ended early.
“This whole experience is very surreal and humbling but it is an honor. I did what I had to do and I’m happy to see all of my friends and family show up. It’s just an honor to have all these people who care about our military,” Ausbrook said.
Ausbrook and his wife Sarah Elrod-Ausbrook, are now becoming advocates for other military men and women who have been delayed in being honored with the Purple Heart. “Without her, this (ceremony) probably never would have happened,” said Ausbrook of his wife.