Philip Hooper, a 95-year-old World War II veteran, earned the Purple Heart and other medals during his service with the Army's 101st Airborne Division. Hooper lost track of the medals over the years, but they were restored to him by Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., in a Friday ceremony at the headquarters of the Army's 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne).
EGLIN AFB — Philip Hooper has a problem, but one he won't mind solving.
On Friday at Camp Simons, the Army 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne) headquarters, the 95-year-old Hooper was presented with replacements for a Purple Heart and other decorations he was awarded during World War II but had lost track of in intervening years. Accompanying the medals was a triangle-folded American flag, all encased in a glass-fronted wooden case.
"I've got to find a place in my apartment for them," Hooper said as he sat with his newly restored medals, a smile betraying his dry wit as soldiers, family and friends filed by to greet and congratulate him.
Hooper saw action in a number of landmark struggles in World War II, including D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge and Operation Market Garden as part of the Army’s 101st Airborne Division’s 327th Glider Infantry Regiment. Then a staff sergeant, Hooper earned the Purple Heart after being wounded by German artillery fire in 1945 in Belgium.
Hooper might never have gotten replacement medals if his story hadn't touched Niceville High School student Clara Beth LaFollette. LaFollette is involved in the Veterans Heritage Project, a nonprofit initiative to link young people with veterans and their stories by having them interview the veterans.
When LaFollette and Gretchen Erickson, Florida VHP advocate, interviewed Hooper recently, LaFollette asked to see his medals, and he had to tell her that he no longer had them. When LaFollette and Erickson left Hooper's apartment at Niceville's American House, they decided to try to get Hooper's medals restored.
They first contacted Bill Patterson, commander of the local Military Order of the Purple Heart. Two months ago, Patterson presented Hooper with a temporary replacement for his Purple Heart at a meeting of the Crispy Warriors, an informal group of local veterans. But Patterson also took things a step further, getting in touch with the office of U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz for help in getting all of Hooper's decorations restored.
In addition to the Purple Heart, the medals restored to Hooper on Friday included the Bronze Star, Combat Infantryman Badge, Glider Wings, Distinguished Unit Citation, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal.
"We did it!" a smiling Patterson said softly as people filed past Hooper after Gaetz presented the replacement medals.
LaFollette was nearly at a loss for words as she stood near Hooper after the medal presentation, for which the two had sat together.
"It's hard to describe," she said. "He's a great man."
"It feels great," Hooper said. But, he joked as people filed past, some taking photos with him, "I'm getting worn out."
In brief remarks, Gaetz said he and his office were proud to have had "just a small part" in restoring Hooper's medals. "It means the world to us," he said.
Col. John Sannes, the 7th Group commander, noted that many 7th Group soldiers had served with the 101st Airborne Division.
"It's a privilege and honor to have you here today," Sannes told Hooper. "It means a lot to have a veteran like yourself here."