Mass. veterans’ agent honors vets, Purple Heart recipients
By Adam Gorlick
Associated Press Writer
MONTAGUE, Mass. — They come to Leo Parent with their problems.
Some lost limbs in combat. Nearly all found nightmares that won’t let them sleep. Others aren’t getting the benefits the government owes them. Many can’t find their way back to who they were before war took them from home.
For the past 22 years, Parent has been their informal social worker, bureaucratic navigator and indispensable ally.
He is one of about 250 veterans’ agents in Massachusetts, and is assigned to 24 Franklin County towns and the hundreds of veterans from World War II through Iraq who live there. The oldest is in his 90s. The youngest is 22.
Along with getting veterans the medical care, psychiatric help and money they’re owed from the federal government, he’s given them something beyond what the law says they’re entitled to: public recognition.
In ceremonies at schools and town halls in this western Massachusetts county over the past four years, he has made a special effort to honor those who have received Purple Hearts, the medal given to soldiers wounded or killed in combat.
“I was a bit flabbergasted when I heard what Leo was doing,” Hugh Der, 56, said.
Der was given his Purple Heart by a commanding officer who left the medal on his hospital bed. He had just had a leg amputated after his helicopter was shot down in Vietnam on July 18, 1969.
Der now displays his medal in a shadowbox in his bedroom. Parent is one of the few people to make a fuss about it.
“You get wounded, you get the Purple Heart, they shake your hand and that’s the last you hear of it,” said Der, who was one of 18 Purple Heart recipients honored last weekend in Parent’s fourth event to salute the medal holders.
He enlisted in 1966, and was stationed at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. He never went to Vietnam. Instead, he was assigned to work at the base’s recreation center, where he taught shop classes to those returning from overseas tours.
Parent became a state Department of Veterans’ Services representative in Franklin County in 1985.
His newest clients — 13 soldiers who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan during the past three years — are some of the hardest cases he’s had.
Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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