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Rapid City hosts Purple Heart Convention

Cpl. Nathaniel Cray
United States Marine Corps
The Purple Heart military decoration is the oldest U.S. military award that is still given to veterans.

The attached interview above is from SDPB's daily public-affairs show, In the Moment, hosted by Lori Walsh.

This week, veterans from 36 states gathered in Rapid City for the Military Order of the Purple Hearts National Convention. The event included recipients of the Purple Heart Award, which is given to U.S. veterans who were injured or killed due to enemy actions.

Connie Johnson served in the U.S. Army during the Iraq War. She received the medal after being injured during her service. Now, she commands the Dakota Department for the Military Order of the Purple Hearts. Johnson says the groups helps connect veterans with other Purple Heart recipients.

“When you go back to your community, unless you seek out and register to the Order on the national level, nobody even knows that you're out there or you exist,” Johnson said. “That's honestly what we're trying to do at the convention here in Rapid City, is advocate and share information so nobody feels left out.”

Johnson said she’s excited that Rapid City had the opportunity to host this year’s convention.

“We took these patriots to Mount Rushmore and to Deadwood to get a feel of some of those things that we have to offer," she said.

According to Johnson, having the convention in South Dakota also highlighted the challenges that come with being a veteran in a rural state.

“We have a VA system, and we have patriots here, and we also struggle with getting to appointments,” she said. “But we also have the additional struggle of we are a rural community. And it takes a long time for us to get from our homes to our hospitals, and it takes a long time because we have to drive here or have to go all the way across the state to Sioux Falls.”

Johnson says it’s important for recipients to register with the organization, which tracks members and advocates for their needs.

“We send you information about what's going on in your local community, what's going on in the national level. What are we as Purple Heart recipients advocating for? Because our needs are slightly different than traditional veterans,” she said.

Slater Dixon is a junior at Augustana University studying Government and Data Science. He was born in Sioux Falls and is based out of SDPB's Sioux Falls studio.