US Senator Mike Rounds’ Weekly Column: One South Dakotan’s Purple Heart Story, 73 Years Overdue

One South Dakotan’s Purple Heart Story, 73 Years Overdue
By U.S. Sen. Mike Rounds (R-S.D.)

One of the important services that our Senate office provides to South Dakotans is assistance in dealing with federal agencies. Over the past three years that I’ve been in office, we have helped countless South Dakotans navigate the bureaucracy of the federal government. With such a large population of veterans living in our state, we often work with different agencies on behalf of veterans. In some cases, we’re able to assist veterans in receiving overdue ribbons and commendations that have been lost in federal paperwork.

We recently had the honor of helping a veteran from Flandreau receive a long overdue Purple Heart Medal. Sylvan Vigness honorably served his country in World War II. On April 1, 1945, Mr. Vigness was serving onboard the U.S.S. Hinsdale when it was hit by a kamikaze during the Battle of Iwo Jima. Mr. Vigness lost sight in his left eye after the attack, and is permanently blind in that eye as a result. Amid the chaos of the attack, the medical records onboard the ship from that day were lost or destroyed, and because of that, Mr. Vigness was denied the Purple Heart for decades.

The Vigness family has spent the past 25 years seeking a Purple Heart for Mr. Vigness, working with my predecessors in the Senate to obtain this long overdue medal. The request was continuously denied because the Navy was unable to locate his medical records from the time of the attack. When the Vigness family contacted our office to look into obtaining the Purple Heart, we began putting together witness statements from his shipmates, along with other materials related to his service and subsequent eye injury. We then sent a letter to the Secretary of the Navy, Richard Spencer, requesting the medal for Mr. Vigness, and I had an opportunity to speak directly to the Secretary about it at the Pentagon. On January 17, 2018, Secretary Spencer notified my office that at his request, under the direction of the president, Mr. Vigness, now aged 94, will finally receive the Purple Heart.

Mr. Vigness is a hero who bravely defended his country in World War II, and is fully deserving of the Purple Heart Medal. We’re thankful to him for his service, and we’re thankful to his family and friends for not giving up on seeking this recognition for him. Like Mr. Vigness, the men and women who wear the uniform of the United States make incredible sacrifices to defend our freedoms and our way of life. I’m extremely grateful for the president’s personal interest in directing that special attention be paid to getting veterans their overdue medals, as well as for Secretary Spencer, who personally reviewed Mr. Vigness’ medical records and personal statement and awarded him the Purple Heart.

If there are other veterans and families in South Dakota who are seeking to obtain a medal or award, please reach out to our office and if we can, we’ll try to help with that effort. Call or stop in to our Pierre, Rapid City or Sioux Falls offices any time. Location information and phone numbers can be found on our website, www.rounds.senate.gov.

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