UConn graduate, veteran presented Purple Heart at Veterans Day ceremony

The UConn Army & Air Force ROTC Joint Cadet Color Guard performs the presentation of the colors to commence UConn's Veteran's Day ceremony in the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room in Storrs, Connecticut on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus)

During his time at the University of Connecticut in the 1940s, 1st Lieutenant John Michael Dunne was a member of the Alpha Phi Fraternity, became an editor of the Nutmeg Yearbook and taught undergraduate English before going on to earn a doctorate in philosophy after returning from World War II. On Dec. 6, 1950, Dunne was killed in action during combat operations in Korea and currently rests in Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.

With no surviving relatives, Dunne’s posthumous Purple Heart was presented to the care of UConn on over six decades later. Major Robert Monette and Dom Narducci originally discovered the lost award and presented it together on Wednesday, Nov. 11 at this year’s Veterans Day Ceremony.

“The medal that I am presenting is earned through valor, lost through circumstance, reunited with dignity,” Monette said, quoting the tagline of Purple Hearts Reunited, the organization that helped Narducci find the award. “It’s certainly my honor to do that.”

Retired Major General Joseph Ward of the United States Air Force also presented the Connecticut Wartime Service Medal to student, staff and faculty veterans at UConn. Other veterans honored for their service were: John Armstrong of the U.S. Army, Aaron Boatman of the U.S. Army, Gregory Bouquot of the U.S. Navy, John Clausen of the U.S. Army, Spencer Cohen of the U.S. Marine Corps, Frederick Kyeremeh of the U.S. Army, Timothy Leininger of the U.S. Navy, Robert Passmore of the U.S. Air Force, Kristopher Perry of the U.S. Navy and Air Force, Lawrence Petery III of the U.S. Air Force, Samuel Surowitz of the U.S. Army and Edward Weingart of the U.S. Army.

During his keynote speech, Ward told the audience that part of Veterans Day’s importance lies in recognizing those whose sacrifices were not met with gratitude in the past. Ward said that while he has always been well received in uniform since joining the ROTC in 1983, one Vietnam War veteran who stopped to thank him on the street had a drastically different experience.

The man, a retired master gunnery sergeant in the Marine Corps, told Ward that when he and his friends returned from Vietnam, they hopped on a bus to Strawberry Park in Preston to catch a live show.

Keynote speaker, United States Air Force Major General (Ret.) and UConn graduate Joseph Ward speaks during a Veteran's Day ceremony honoring 1st Lieutenant John Michael Dunne in the Wilbur Cross North Reading Room in Storrs, Connecticut on Wednesday, Nov. 11, 2015. (Ashley Maher/The Daily Campus) 

“The first thing that happened when he got onto the bus was a woman leaned out into the aisle and spat on his shoes,” Ward said. “He made it his personal mantra from that day to thank everyone in uniform.”

Ward surmised this sentiment, and that of Veterans Day as a whole, in six simple words: “Freedom isn’t free, thank a veteran.”

Emily Merritt, a career counselor at the Center for Career Development, whose boyfriend has served in the military for 5 years, said she appreciated the context provided by Ward’s speech.

“I really liked getting to hear the message about how veterans were treated historically,” Merritt said. “It [thanking a veteran] might seem like just a small gesture, but it can be big.”

Spencer Cohen and Aaron Boatman, two student veterans recognized with the Wartime Service Medal during the ceremony, said taking the time to thank even one veteran can mean a lot.

“If there’s someone you know who made a sacrifice, do something to make them feel remembered,” said Cohen.

In addition to presenting Dunne’s lost Purple Heart and twelve Wartime Service Medals, the Veterans Day Ceremony, led by the UConn Veterans Students Organization chapter president Sam Surowitz, was accompanied by the presentation of a memorial wreath by student veterans Cohen and Garret Taylor of the U.S. Army, Army ROTC Cadet Crystal Mier’s performance of the national anthem and “Taps” by music student Owen Bologna on trumpet.

“To me, there is no greater honor than serving your country,” Ward said. “We should never, ever forget an opportunity to thank someone for their service.”


Kimberly Armstrong is a staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at kimberly.armstrong@uconn.edu.