After long wait, Tacoma veteran gets Purple Heart

By:  Adam Ashton
Source: The News Tribune

When former Marine Lance Cpl. Kenneth McAllister finally received a Purple Heart for wounds he suffered in the early days of the Iraq War, he let his feet convey what his mouth couldn’t quite say.

The 31-year-old Tacoma native danced Tuesday on the polished floor of a Marine hangar at Joint Base Lewis-McChord, spinning and grinning for his family after his medal ceremony was over.

His wide smile showed the joy he felt after cracking the military bureaucracy to take home a medal he should have had in 2003.

But when he talked to reporters, McAllister wouldn’t describe his wounds or his campaign for his Purple Heart. He wanted to talk about his comrades who didn’t come home.

“For the Marines that lost their lives for us, my heart cries out for them,” he said. “I just thank God this happened.”

McAllister was joined by his wife, Samantha, and their young son, Malcolm. He grew up in Tacoma and graduated from Mount Tahoma High School in 1999.

He periodically sought the Purple Heart he knew he’d earned April 1, 2003, when he was struck by shrapnel in a firefight on his Marine tank battalion’s road to Baghdad.

McAllister knew in the moment he was hit that he was entitled to a Purple Heart, the medal that recognizes soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines who are wounded in combat.

But by the time McAllister left the Marines the following year, he still had not received his medal. On Tuesday, he declined to say why.

He sought help from Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., in August. Cantwell’s military liaison, Samuel Mack, guided McAllister in producing the paperwork the Marines’ needed to award the medal.

By January, the combat veteran learned the Marines would recognize him.

McAllister “was part of the first wave of troops that entered Iraq on a mission of liberation,” Cantwell said at Tuesday’s ceremony.

When he was hit on his tank, “he did not abandon his post, and the rest of his tank crew pushed through,” Cantwell said. “His award is a very small but very important gesture saying ‘thank you.’”

McAllister’s award ceremony took place at the headquarters of the 4th Landing Support Battalion, a Marine Reserve unit based at Lewis-McChord.

He was injured while serving with Company B of 1st Tank Battalion, 1st Marine Division out of Camp Pendleton, Calif.

He sounded as if he was ready to put on a uniform again after the ceremony.

“I love being a Marine,” he said. “It’s the greatest honor in the world.”