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Columbian gets Purple Heart

The Army specialist suffered shrapnel wounds to his arm.
Thursday, October 16, 2003 | 12:00 a.m. CDT; updated 12:48 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

Spc. William Nelson was en route to a security checkpoint a few miles outside of Baghdad in August when he was momentarily blinded by a blast of white light. The next thing he knew, his arm, which was hanging casually out of the window of his vehicle, had shrapnel in it. The Humvee Nelson was riding in had detonated an improvised explosive device.

It was Aug. 30 — Nelson’s 22nd birthday. The wounds were so severe that the on-site medic thought Nelson might lose the use of his elbow. After two surgeries to correct nerve damage in his elbow, Nelson has regained almost all flexibility in his arm and some feeling in his fingers.

On Wednesday, Nelson was awarded the Purple Heart by U.S. Rep. Kenny Hulshof, R-Mo., in a ceremony at the Columbia Public Library.

The Purple Heart is a combat decoration awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces who are injured by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

Nelson, a Columbia native who graduated from Douglass High School in 2001, has been serving in Operation Iraqi Freedom since March. The ceremony was sweet sorrow for Nelson’s mother, Belinda.

“We are glad to have him home,” Belinda Nelson said, “but there are other parents who aren’t so lucky.”

She thanked the community for the continued support of the Nelson family while her son was away.

Nelson joined the Army after his high school graduation and has since been stationed at Fort Bragg, N.C. He will remain in the United States until his injuries have healed, even though his enlistment is not up until April 2007. Nelson said he has plans to re-enlist when his term of service ends.

Nelson and his wife, Leslie, live at Fort Bragg. The couple married on Sept. 17.

“There are others that deserve this (award) more than I do and haven’t even received a thanks,” Nelson said.


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