"Combat Wounded Veterans"
Military Order of the Purple Heart
Sgt. Awner and Cpl. Celotto CT Post Article

2 soldiers receive Purple Hearts

Recipients honored by Derby veterans

By MEG BARONE, Correspondent
Connecticut Post Article Feb. 12th 2005

DERBY

The most recent members of a unique "club" that no one wants to join were honored Saturday by the Military Order of the Purple Heart, George Washington Chapter 1.

About two dozen veterans of World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars were on hand at Veterans' Memorial Building to pay tribute to Army Sgt. Heather I. Awner, 20, of Wallingford, and Marine Cpl. Matthew W. Celotto, 19, of Clinton. Both were injured in the conflict in Iraq.

The Purple Heart medal is issued to those wounded in combat.

Awner, a member of the military police, lost her left index finger though it was reattached during an enemy attack in Al-Quaim, Iraq, in July 2003.

"We were coming off night patrol. They saw us coming and just started lighting things up. It was so loud I thought I died," said Awner, who joined the service at age 17, right out of high school.

Celotto was walking to dinner in November in Ramadi when he was struck in the left thigh with shrapnel from a 60-millimeter mortar. He underwent five blood transfusions and nine surgeries.

"They said I will recover 100 percent and return to active duty," said Celotto, who hopes to go to the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Md. "I want to become a naval officer and fly jets."

Both received a certificate of appreciation from chapter members and praise for their service.

"We're proud of our youth," Chapter Commander John Doherty said,

"I think it's important to honor them, to make sure they know how appreciative the American public is because of their sacrifice for freedom, and especially by combat-wounded veterans who understand what they've been through," said Al Meadows, 58, of Shelton, who served as an Army specialist 4th Class, combat infantryman, in Vietnam.

The young soldier and Marine returned the praise of their elder veterans.

"It's nice to be part of a brotherhood, the comradery that only wounded veterans can understand. This is a good place to come and talk about things with people who have been through the same thing," Celotto said.

Awner said she's not sure she can fully relate to the veterans of previous wars because their situations and experiences are different.

"I'll never understand what they went through. We have it easier and harder at the same time. They just had it hard," she said.

In previous wars, U.S. soldiers had a defined enemy, Awner said.

"We don't," she said.

"In this war, you don't know who's who. You don't know who to shoot, at until they start shooting at you," Celotto said.

But "the support and recognition we've gotten for this war is incredible," he said.

Even people who don't agree with the war still support military personnel, unlike what Vietnam veterans experienced, said Celotto, who enlisted right after high school graduation.

Doherty said it is important to remember all veterans.

"We're scarred and have the Purple Heart (medal), but there are a lot of people who have emotional scars, too," he said..