Tester awards belated Purple Heart to Bozeman officer

Bozeman Daily Chronicle

by Laura Lundquist

In 2004, Army National Guard Staff Sgt. Cory Klumb was riding in a Humvee near Bagdad, Iraq, when a bomb went off.

Klumb and other soldiers were impaired as a result, but Klumb didn’t receive his Purple Heart medal until Friday.

The improvised explosive device had been buried at the far edge of the road, so the explosion wasn’t close enough to pierce the Humvee’s armor. But the sound was deafening.

For a time after, the soldiers couldn’t hear well – sounds were muffled as if they were underwater, Klumb said.

That effect slowly went away, but now Klumb has significant tinnitus or ringing in his ears.

The incident happened as the unit was preparing to return to the States.

The unit commander recommended Klumb and his fellow soldiers for the Purple Heart, an award given to service members wounded during war.

When Klumb got home, he learned the awards were denied because the injuries didn’t require medical treatment. But the citation had been entered in his military record and remained there.

Klumb didn’t think much about it until people started questioning military awards during the 2004 presidential election.

Opponents of Democratic candidate John Kerry doubted the validity of his military awards, including his Purple Hearts. A Navy Inspector General later reviewed Kerry’s record and found the awards were valid.

Then a year ago or so, Klumb saw a video clip of one of his fellow soldiers receiving a Purple Heart from Sen. Jon Tester.

“I decided to contact him because I either wanted it because I earned it or I wanted it off my paperwork. I didn’t want people accusing me of claiming something I didn’t earn,” Klumb said.

On Friday, during a brief ceremony attended by friends, family and veterans outside the Bozeman Public Library, Tester was able to hand Klumb the honor that was denied almost a decade ago.

Nearby, eight members of various American Foreign Legion posts stood at attention while the American flag flew above a grove dedicated to Sgt. Travis Atkins, who was killed in Iraq in 2007.

“We need to make sure no act of heroism goes unnoticed,” Tester said. “Honoring Montana’s heroes is something I have had the privilege of and is something I take very seriously.”

Tester has awarded about 550 medals to 57 veterans, who, like Klumb, were overlooked for one reason or another.

Tester told the story of a boy who researched his great-grandfather for a school paper. The boy learned the man, an airman in England in World War II, had sacrificed his own life to save the lives of people on the ground.

That was the first medal Tester awarded, and he gave it to the boy, his father and grandfather.

Tester said more potential awards are in the pipeline, but it can take time.

“It depends on a number of factors: their documentation, how long they’ve been out of the service,” Tester said. “It can be as short as a month or take up to a year.” Klumb was pleased to receive the award after so long.

“It is important to me,” Klumb said. Klumb is now a member of the Bozeman Police Department.

This week, Tester also backed a Senate Veterans’ Affairs resolution to designate Saturday as “Day of the Deployed,” in honor of service members serving overseas.