92-year-old 101st Airborne Veteran Finally Receives Purple Heart

Over 70 years after fighting in the Battle of the Bulge, 92-year-old Russell Rodgers of Gardnerville, in northern Nevada, was awarded the Purple Heart. He served as private first class in the 101st Airborne’s 502nd Parachute Infantry Regiment.

Part of the reason for the wait to receive his medal was a fire in Chicago that destroyed his records. He received the medal at a family celebration at the senior living center near Reno where he lives.

“I joined the Airborne to see if they were crazy or brave, and I’ve learned that they are both,” Rodgers said. “Being a part of them is a dream come true for me when I thought I wouldn’t even get into the military,” he said. “This is just icing on the cake, to be awarded this.”

One benefit to waiting so long for his medal was having his grandson pin the medal onto his jump jacket. Army Sgt. First Class Russ Rodgers, named after his grandfather, is a Green Beret.

“I told him that I was going to be crying all day. Having him pin me was so awesome,” the senior Rodgers said. “I am still having trouble sleeping. Every time I try to sleep, I see all of the people there. I never expected any of this. It is so overwhelming.”

Rodgers developed severe frostbite while fighting the Germans in the forests of Belgium. He spent three months in an English hospital. He nearly lost both his feet.

His daughter, Debbie Prioiello, began making arrangements for family members to fly in from around the country to attend the ceremony two months ago when she heard the medal had been approved. His granddaughter is a staff sergeant in the 101st as a flight paramedic. Her husband is in the 101st as a pilot-in-training. “This was something we didn’t want to just hand to him. We wanted to make it special. We are very proud of him,” Prioiello said. “It was such an emotional day,” she said. “This was a long time coming.”

He was also presented with the Presidential Unit Citation for the 101st’s involvement in the Battle of the Bulge, the Belgian Fourragere for the unit’s bravery during World War II, and the Dutch Lanyard or Military William Order for the liberation of the Dutch people.

Ian Harvey

Ian Harvey is one of the authors writing for WAR HISTORY ONLINE