New interest in Military Order of the Purple Heart

ESCANABA – The local chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart is undergoing a resurgence with an influx of new members. Ken Thorbjornsen Chapter 1976 will meet at 7 p.m. Thursday at the Purple Heart Building at 1201 Sheridan Road in Escanaba. Membership is open to all veterans who sustained wounds during combat operations against enemy forces in various conflicts.

Meetings will be held the last Thursday of each month, at 7 p.m.

The MOPH was established in 1932, while the Escanaba chapter, which has membership from throughout the country, made its debut in 1976. The Purple Heart is the oldest military decoration in the world in present use and the first American award made available to the common soldier. It was initially created as the Badge of Military Merit by General George Washington.

Dennis Grall of Escanaba was selected chapter commander recently when the group held its first meeting in several years. Fellow Vietnam War veteran Lyle Leonard of Escanaba was selected senior vice-commander. Grall and Leonard were both involved with Operation Union in 1967 while serving in different companies with the U.S. Marine Corps.

Grall’s Foxtrot Company had the initial contact with a regiment of North Vietnam soldiers and Leonard’s Mike Company arrived several weeks later as the engagement escalated into a five-month operation. Details of that entire operation, including an item regarding Leonard’s injury, are the basis of a book entitled “The Road of 10,000 Pains.”

Long-time veteran advocate, Bud Irving, was selected junior vice commander. Bill Starnes of Escanaba was named sergeant-at-arms while Ron Budkis of Escanaba, Bill Porath of Bark River and Bob Lauzon of Garden were selected trustees. Former commander Bob Jensen of Escanaba was named historian. Grall is also serving as adjutant and finance officer.

Any veterans having questions about the Purple Heart, or those interested in joining, can contact Grall at 789-9005 or