For the second time in two decades, John “Russ” Orders was hopeful he would receive a Purple Heart for his sacrifice during World War II’s Battle of the Bulge.
A ceremony planned for last month, during which Orders would have been awarded the Purple Heart, has been postponed. Orders’ award status remains in limbo because of a missing document that details how and when Orders received his injuries.
“Obviously, the government takes a little longer than normal, but they sent us back a reply when we requested the Purple Heart and they said that they needed more information,” said Dave Bowen, a chaplain for Access Home Care and Hospice who has served as liaison between the US Army and Orders. “But all the information they requested was on the paperwork that I submitted, so I’m not sure what they are looking for.”
Currently, Orders is a resident at the Cottonwood Cove retirement home in Pocatello.
It was a freezing January night in 1945 and Orders — a member of the US Army’s 102nd “Ozark” Infantry Division — was driving a supply truck to the front lines when a German artillery round struck his truck, exploded on impact, and knocked him unconscious. When he awoke, he was in a hospital bed in France with severe injuries to his left hand.
Six months later, the US Army honorably discharged Orders, and in addition to the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Ribbon, he received two Bronze Stars, a Good Conduct Medal, and the American Theater Ribbon.
Despite his injures, Orders did not receive the Purple Heart.
For decades, he didn’t pursue the award because he thought that it was reserved for those who had been shot. Before her passing in 2012, Orders’ late wife, Jeanne Orders, interviewed and documented his service record during the war.
But the US Army cannot rely on Jeanne’s notes and must confirm the information through an action report that details how and when his injuries would have occurred.
The only problem is that the action report may not exist, according to Orders’ son-in-law, Kevin Haskell.
Haskell said any specific records for Orders’ were stored in St. Louis, Missouri, and were likely destroyed in the 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center.
“I haven’t got a clue what (the US Army) is looking for,” Haskell said. “Fifteen years ago, my wife (Jolynn Haskell) and my mother-in-law ( Jeanne Orders) went through this whole process. Before Dave brought it back up, we had totally forgotten about it.”
Haskell continued, “What’s disappointing is the US Army doesn’t want to act on the evidence we have provided — they want to go off the paperwork.”
The same technicality prevented Orders from receiving the Purple Heart several years before Jeanne died, so to reach the same point again has left Kevin and Jolynn wondering if Orders will ever get the recognition they think he deserves.
“Jolynn was quite disappointed because we thought that the process was all worked out,” Kevin Haskell said. “We were told that it was approved and thought that they had progressed it through, but now it’s postponed because there are more forms that (the US Army) needs.”
Haskell said that it’s not the fact that Orders hasn’t received the Purple Heart, but that the process reached a point where the retirement home scheduled a pinning ceremony that Idaho Sen. Mike Crapo planned to attend, only to find out just days before that more information was necessary.
“It was definitely a surprise,” Haskell said. “We thought he was finally going to get it. We are getting asked by residents in the center why he’s not getting the award and we don’t know what to tell them. To go that far and then all of a sudden put a stop to it is pretty disappointing.”
Though there’s a chance that Orders will receive the Purple Heart, Bowen said he is uncertain how probable that outcome will be considering this isn’t the first scenario in which further documentation was missing.
But that hasn’t stopped him from trying.
“We’re going to do everything we can to make sure this happens,” Bowen said. “We will push this until we get an absolute no from the Army.”