Wilton man’s Purple Heart arrives 54 years later


Fifty-four years after being shot while unloading a helicopter in the jungles of Vietnam, SSG Keith Ormsby received the Purple Heart and Air Medal.

Under a large American flag supported by a crane, Muscatine celebrated the Fourth of July by honoring Ormsby.

It’s an honor that Ormsby never expected.

“I never pushed for it, I just wanted to get out of there… but this was really exciting. Tonight was really super,” he said.

While at the American Legion in Durant, Muscatine County Veteran Affairs executive director Eric Sanders told Ormsby he should review his benefits.

Ormsby and Sanders were looking over the files. “Sanders told me that I should have a Purple Heart and an Air Medal,” Ormsby said.

Sanders sent the recommendation to be reviewed at Fort Knox.

He received a draft notice two weeks before graduating Wilton High School. He graduated with the Class of 1968, and four days later left for the service. “My family was almost all World War II, it was just something you do, so you went.”

In October 1969, he began his service in Vietnam in Company D, 2nd Battalion, 501st Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division as an 11B Light Weapons Infantryman. He was promoted from Private E-1 to Staff Sergeant E-6 in eight months, a rare achievement according to Veteran Affairs.

On Jan. 31, 1970, Ormsby led his platoon of at least 30 people to a helicopter landing point in the jungle. As they unloaded ammunition, water, and rations, Viet Cong ambushed them from the hills. Ormsby described it as, “a typical ambush… lasting five minutes or so.” Ormsby’s right hand and arm were hit. He said his Army file titled them, “standard AK-47 wounds.” 

“Well, the helicopter was still there, so I just got on the helicopter and left,” said Ormsby. In approximately 30 minutes, a field hospital in Phu Bai treated his wounds. The next day he evacuated to a hospital in Zama, Japan. A month and a half later, he recovered at Fort Riley, Kansas.

In downtown Muscatine on July 4, on the stage right in front of train tracks, Iowa Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks pinned the Purple Heart on Ormsby’s shirt. Rear Admiral Pamela Miller and Eric Sanders spoke about the cost of freedom in America and our debt to veterans. Admiral Miller, originally from Muscatine, said of the rest of the world: “They look up to us. We show them what is possible.”

A train ran through behind the stage, interrupting her speech. “I miss the trains,” she said as she waved at the Canada Pacific locomotive.

Admiral Miller presented Ormsby with the Air Medal for acts of heroism in aerial combat in support of operations.

After the ceremony, the National Guard looped over with a Chinook helicopter. 

Although unable to attend, Gov. Kimberly Reynolds sent a letter that was read aloud. “I pray you have healed with time,” and that this event is a, “reminder our liberties have been bought at a high price indeed.”



Keith Ormsby, Eric Sanders, Mariannette Miller-Meeks, Pamela Miller, Kim Reynolds