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January 29, 2018 10:06 PM

The Tale Of Two Purple Hearts


It's a tale of two hearts--Purple Hearts. 

This fall, our KELOLAND News investigation looked into two cases of veterans who were wounded in battle.

That should have automatically meant they each received the Purple Heart. 

But in both cases, their families had tried for years, unsuccessfully, to get these veterans the honor they were due.

Our investigations got the wheels turning in Washington and their Purple Hearts came through.

This tale of two "Purple Hearts," began when KELOLAND investigates as contacted by the family of Eugene Coyle.  The Korean War veteran had been hurt three times in battle, but because of a fire at the National Archives that destroyed his records, and poor record keeping on the battlefield, he was turned down by the Army. 

After KELOLAND Investigates looked into Coyle's case and contacted Senator John Thune's office, Coyle got his long-overdue Purple Heart.

When the family of World War II Veteran Sylvan Vigness saw that story, they asked KELOLAND Investigates to look into his case.    

Vigness lost sight in his left eye during an attack on his ship in Japan. This weekend brought a joyful ending to the long-battle fought by Vigness' family and friends to get him the Purple Heart. 

"I'm so happy for my dad and my mom. We've been trying to do this for a long time and I'm just so proud of him," Sylvan Vigness' daughter Carol Engquist said.

Friends and family packed the Flandreau community center to witness 94-year-old Vigness receive his Purple Heart. Vigness is an integral part of the community; the long-time superintendent is even featured handing out a diploma in a mural.

"For the country to be able to say thank you to Mr. Vigness---his message was it's not necessary. But to the country, to our well-being, it's important that we say thank you to a true hero," Sen. Mike Rounds said.

Another true hero was also in attendance. 

"I got the Purple Heart, finally after all these years," Korean War Veteran Gene Coyle said.

66-years after the Korean war to be exact; Coyle wanted to see World War II Veteran Vigness get his too. 

"Dad has a lot of respect for his fellow veterans and especially recipients of the Purple Heart who were wounded.  Dad respects that and wanted to be here today, so we made sure we got him here," Gene's son Kenny Coyle said.

The road to Vigness' Purple Heart began two decades ago when his son Dan began submitting paperwork to South Dakota's congressional offices. Unfortunately Dan didn't see his father get the honor.  Dan died from cancer five years ago, nearly to the date of his father's ceremony. 

"So we feel this is kind of nice little karma that all of this is happening at the time of the anniversary of this death; so we know he's looking down and smiling and enjoying every second of this, Debbie Vigness, Dan's Widow said.

Vigness' family and friends believe it may never have happened if it weren't for the attention on Vigness' case following our KELOLAND News Investigation. 

"And I'm so happy you were able to get it done for us; because we weren't having much luck. We hit a brick wall every time we turned around.  Thanks to you it got done and I am so happy. Curtis Eng said. 

And Vigness, overwhelmed by the outpouring of respect form his community, had this to say:

"An awful lot of effort from a few people and they did a great, great job. And I really, really, really appreciate it," Sylvan Vigness said.

During our investigation into the years of denials, we contacted Senator Rounds' office who was the last to get Vigness' paperwork. Rounds then personally met with the Secretary of the Navy and after correcting a few mistakes in the file, it went directly to the Secretary who approved it. 

© 2018 KELOLAND TV. All Rights Reserved. 

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