SIERRA VISTA — “The Purple Heart is one medal available to all, but wanted by none,” said James ‘Eddie’ Weathers, while quoting an old U.S. military saying.
Weathers, a two-time Purple Heart recipient and commander of the local Military Order of the Purple Heart (MOPH) chapter, is passionate about the combat wounded veterans his organization recognizes and supports.
The mission of the MOPH is to foster camaraderie among those veterans and provide service to the veterans and their families, he said.
“Aug. 7 was National Purple Heart Day. August is National Purple Heart Month and Arizona has been declared a Purple Heart State by Governor Ducey,” said Weathers who was one of several chapter members behind the push to have Sierra Vista declared a Purple Heart City, as well as Huachuca City and Benson.
Arizona was the first state to have all its counties named Purple Heart counties, something local MOPH chapter members are proud of.
With a military career that spanned 24 years, Weathers joined the U.S. Marine Corps right out of highschool, serving in the Corps from 1987 to 97. He joined the U.S. Army in 1997 and retired after 14 years, in 2012.
Weathers sustained his first combat injuries in June 2006 in the City of Sdr of Eastern Baghdad from an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) strike while riding in the commander seat of a military vehicle.
“I was peppered with shrapnel and one piece penetrated my helmet, which then penetrated my left temple and exited my forehead,” he said. “I lost consciousnesses, but could still sense a battle going on around me.”
Weathers was treated by doctors who wanted to send him to Germany for treatment for what they believed was a traumatic brain injury. But weather conditions prevented him from leaving the country. He later was told that his injuries were not as severe as they first thought and his doctors gave him the option of going to Fort Campbell, Kentucky for further evaluations, or returning to his unit in Baghdad. He opted to return to his unit, with the understanding he would not go on missions for a couple of months.
“Five weeks later, on Sept. 16, 2006 I was wounded again by direct fire by bullet fragments and a rocket propelled grenade,” he said. To this day, he has a section of the AK-47 bullet on his key chain, which he calls his Iraqi souvenir.
Of his 24 years in the military, Weathers served in the infantry for 17 of those years. His last seven years were dedicated to military intelligence at Fort Campbell and then Fort Huachuca.
While Weathers sustained life-altering injuries in combat, he is the first to say he is fortunate.
The traumatic brain injury he sustained causes occasional seizures, some memory problems and unsteadiness. He is blind in his left eye and a piece of shrapnel is still lodged in his left temple.
Weathers has learned to compensate for some of his disabilities with the help of a service dog named Nicholas.
“I adopted him out of the Tombstone Animal Shelter and he got his training through Leslie Bryant, of A Soldier’s Best Friend,” Weathers said. “We depend on each other.”
Nicholas can sense when Weathers is about to have a seizure and has been trained to alert his friend of an impending incident.
“He goes everywhere with me. He helps me with my PTSD, anxiety, warns me of seizures and helps me with balance issues.”
Along with Nicholas, Weathers said that his work with MOPH and the close friends he’s made through the organization have made a huge difference in his life. His work with MOPH gives his life a positive direction.
Joseph Hebert, the local MOPH chapter adjutant was an U.S. Army ranger and now serves as a border patrol agent. Like Weathers, he is the recipient of two Purple Hearts because of injuries he received while in the special forces in Afghanistan and Iraq.
“We are here to support the military veterans for their selfless service in the line of combat,” he said. “Our group expands multiple generations, from current conflicts to the Korean War. Despite the generational gap, we’re there for each other and that’s what really matters.”
The MOPH chapter meets at 6 p.m. on the last Wednesday month at the Landmark Cafe in Sierra Vista.
Ron Seager, the chapter finance officer, talked about some of the community outreach projects MOPH supports.
“The folks in this chapter are a great group of people,” Seager said. “Through money that we raise and donations, we’re able to provide scholarships for JROTC graduates, Soldier’s Best friend, Trees for Christmas, we help with projects like roof repairs and we’ve helped with rent emergencies.”
Seager was wounded in Vietnam in 1968 from a shrapnel injury while working with an artillery unit.
“I was fortunate,” he said. “We had thousands and thousands and thousands of deaths in Vietnam and some of the men and women came home with terrible, life-changing injuries. So, I feel fortunate.”
Referencing Weathers and his injuries, Seager said, “I look at Eddie and what he’s gone through. He has shrapnel behind his eye, he uses as service dog because of PTSD and deals with seizures, and yet he works hard to put all that behind him and continues to help others. I feel that all veterans are like family.”