How these Marines ensured a Purple Heart was awarded properly

When Marines graduate recruit training, not only are they gaining the title of Marine, they are also gaining a family. The bonds of the Marines to their left and right often run thicker than blood.

Marines would give their lives for each other and when one of their own needs help, they never hesitate to step up. This link lasts a lifetime, even when their active duty time is finished. If there are two phrases that every Marine takes to heart, it’s “once a Marine, always a Marine” and “never leave a Marine behind.”

Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, receives a Purple Heart Medal, Dec. 16, in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, receives a Purple Heart Medal, Dec. 16, in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

Because of these two deeply understood Marine Corps sentiments, the Recruiting Sub Station Sioux Falls Marines did not think twice about helping a Marine receive what she rightfully deserved.

Sergeant Sara McGaffee joined the Marine Corps in 2008 out of Sioux Falls, S.D. On Oct. 20, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan.

McGaffee sustained considerable injuries in the blast.

Also Read: Here are the criteria that entitle a servicemember to the Purple Heart

Due to an administrative oversight, however, McGaffee was never awarded the Purple Heart Medal. But, when the award finally came through, it was set to be mailed to McGaffee directly. Gunnery Sgt. Paul Odonnell, the staff non-commissioned officer in charge of RSS Sioux Falls, heard her story and refused to let her receive such a prestigious award in the mail despite the fact that McGaffee was no longer on active duty.

McGaffee was awarded her Purple Heart Medal, Dec. 16, during a traditional Marine Corps ceremony in front of Marines and her local friends and family.

Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, poses for a photo with the Marines of Recruiting Sub Station Sioux Falls after being awarded the Purple Heart Medal. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. McGaffee was awarded her Purple Heart, Dec. 16, 2017 in Sioux Falls, S.D., in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

Sergeant Sara McGaffee, a Sioux Falls, S.D., native, poses for a photo with the Marines of Recruiting Sub Station Sioux Falls after being awarded the Purple Heart Medal. On Oct. 20th, 2010, while deployed with Combat Logistics Battalion 3, McGaffee’s vehicle was hit by an improvised explosive device while conducting convoy operations in support of Operation Steel Dawn II in the Helmand province of Afghanistan. McGaffee was awarded her Purple Heart, Dec. 16, 2017 in Sioux Falls, S.D., in front of a detail of Marines and her local friends and family. (Image Sgt. Michelle Reif)

The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to members of the military of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy.

“Having Sgt. McGaffee’s friends and family here today just goes to show how incredible the state of South Dakota is,” said Odonnell. “We had an opportunity to do this ceremony the right way and I think we captured what it really means to always be a Marine. We support our family.”