Valley veteran receives Purple Heart after 51 years - WFMJ.com News weather sports for Youngstown-Warren Ohio

Valley veteran receives Purple Heart after 51 years

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WARREN, Ohio -

A Valley veteran is finally getting the honor and recognition he's due for being injured in combat more than a half-century ago.

Army Specialist Leo Connelly was awarded the Purple Heart in Warren during a special ceremony Saturday.

"It kind of closes a chapter in my life," said Connelly. 

He was wounded in action during Operation Billings on June 18, 1967.

Connelly's honor Saturday nearly came at the expense of his own life, trying to rescue an injured fellow soldier beside a member of the Viet Cong that he thought was dead, but the soldier stabbed him in the arm and stomach.

Connelly killed the Viet Cong soldier, grabbed his comrade and carried him back to the helicopter. 

"I was in an era where you got drafted, went to the penitentiary or went to college," said Connelly. 

And in Connelly's mind, there was only one option.

"There isn't enough gold in Fort Knox to stop me from doing it," he says. "I was privileged to wear this American uniform, and it'd be a privilege to put it back on again and fight for this country."

And much like a soldier's commitment to his fellow brethren, Connelly had comrades of a different kind making sure that sacrifice didn't go unnoticed.

Connelly said, "If it weren't for Tim Ryan and Herm Breuer writing and putting the package together and Tim Ryan actually going there and telling them what happened, I don't think I'd have the Purple Heart today."

Despite the gravity of earning such a distinction, Connelly continues his mission as a veteran activist - another example of his selflessness.

"I want to be able to spread the word and educate people about the 58,000 that didn't come home.  It means we've come a long way," said Connelly. 

Now on this day, in a room full of young adults who have committed to the same spirit of service that he's embodied for so long, Specialist Leo Connelly may be closing one chapter, but he continues to help write the book showcasing what our country is all about.

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