PORTLAND, Mich. — A Purple Heart awarded to a West Michigan man injured during the Vietnam War is back with his family, who until recently did not know it existed.
“I’m glad to have this back,” said Matthew Smith while holding the medal on Monday. “It means a lot of different things all at once. It’s just almost unworldly in a sense.”
During the Vietnam War in 1968, Smith’s father, Army Sgt. Stephen D. Smith, was drafted to the 101st Airborne Division, where he served as a radio paratrooper.
While overseas, Sgt. Smith was injured after a commander accidentally set off a landmine.
“The shrapnel basically went everywhere and it killed a bunch of people that he was with that day,” Smith said. “It hit him all over his back and arms even, like his legs. They weren’t real sure if he’d ever walk again, but he did. He put his mind to it.”
Sgt. Smith was honorably discharged in 1970 and went onto raise two boys with his wife in Portland. He worked as an appraiser and assessor before working as a pharmacy technician at a nearby hospital.
Years later, in 2019, Sgt. Smith passed away and a cleaning company cleared out his home on Friend Road.
That’s when a friend of Gabriel Goodrich who had an antique market picked up a box. In it was the Purple Heart.
Goodrich says his friend wasn’t sure what to do with it, so this past weekend he decided to post it on Facebook. Users there suggested it could belong to Matthew’s family.
“My grandfather and all my uncles were in the military,” said Goodrich. “If they had a Purple Heart and it had been misplaced like that, my family would want it back.”
Smith says it came as a surprise to his family, since they already have a Purple Heart in a collection of his dad’s military service. Unlike the one in their possession though, this Purple Heart has Sgt. Smith’s name etched on the back.
“The fact that this survived or even made it to Memorial Day or the fact that it was found or in the manner that it was, is just unbelievable,” said Smith.
According to the U.S. Army Human Resource Command, no more than one Purple Heart can be awarded “for more than one wound or injury received at the same instant or from the same missile, force, explosion, or agent.”
Smith says he’s not aware of any other injuries his father may have sustained during other combat missions.
It’s also possible one the Purple Hearts may be a replacement.
The Smith family says no matter the reason, they’ll cherish both.
“It speaks volumes on my dad,” said Smith.