Serviceman's Purple Heart belongs in Cedar Rapids

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Leonard L. Kelly was born and raised in Cedar Rapids. Before enlisting in the Army to fight in World War II, he worked at Quaker Oats in Cedar Rapids. When he came home on leave, he married his sweetheart — a Cedar Rapids girl.

After Kelly died from wounds he suffered on the beaches of Normandy during the 1944 D-Day invasion, his family brought his body home — to Cedar Rapids. The Purple Heart that Kelly earned through his sacrifice on the battlefield should come home to stay here, too.

The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers who have been wounded or killed in action.

It is one of the most recognized and respected of the medals awarded by the U.S. military. But Sgt. Kelly’s medal, in particular, is not only a symbol of his sacrifice, but also a reminder of our community’s commitment to veterans of all wars.

The twists of fate that brought his Purple Heart back to Iowa has invigorated our common commitment to all veterans. It is Cedar Rapids’ story to tell.

The mission began after a good Samaritan in Oklahoma purchased Kelly’s Purple Heart in an online auction. He began researching the medal’s recipient and, with the help of friends, discovered that Kelly was an Iowa native.

He donated the Purple Heart to Camp Dodge’s Gold Star Military Museum.

They also discovered that Kelly’s grave had been unmarked since his 1949 burial. The marker had been ordered but never placed.

That prompted veterans groups, business owners and citizens to come together to honor Kelly with a bronze marker on a granite headstone and a full military service. Cedar Memorial offered the granite at a discounted rate. Veterans’ organizations chipped in to cover the cost. All pledged that in Linn County, no service member’s grave will knowingly go unmarked.

Through the generosity of the Gold Star Museum, Kelly’s Purple Heart is on short-term loan for display at the Eastern Iowa All Veterans Memorial Museum on the Second Avenue Bridge.

We urge the Gold Star Museum to extend the honor by making it a permanent loan.

The donor told us that when he gave Kelly’s Purple Heart to Camp Dodge, he was unaware the Cedar Rapids facility existed.

He said he agrees that Cedar Rapids is the right place for the medal’s display.

We are blessed to have two world-class military archives in Iowa that are capable of preserving this piece of history, but Kelly’s Purple Heart has a special meaning for the community of Cedar Rapids.

The story of Kelly’s sacrifice, and the dedication of those who worked decades later to honor it, shows that Kelly remains in our hearts.

It’s only fitting for Kelly’s Purple Heart to stay here, too.

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