MARTINSBURG, W.Va. — U.S. Marine Corps veteran and recipient of the Purple Heart Cyril L. “Cy” Kammeier of Inwood has been named the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s Patriot of the Year for 2015.
“It is a significant honor – I’m really pleased with the honor,” Kammeier said in a recent telephone interview.
He is an active member of the MOPH Chapter 646 in Martinsburg and the Eastern Panhandle Detachment 1143 of the Marine Corps League.
Although Kammeier was unable to attend, he was named the Patriot of the Year at the MOPH’s national convention in Las Vegas in August.
“The Patriot of the Year goes to the member who most represents the Military Order of the Purple Heart and volunteers with veterans the most,” John Bircher, national public relations director of MOPH, said in a recent telephone interview.
“All the past recipients of the Patriot of the Year decide who the best candidate is. The award is a big deal to us. There is no one better than Cy.”
Bircher explained that each MOPH chapter selects its Patriot of the Year. There are 170 chapters, he said.
From the chapter level, the candidates go to the state level, where the state Patriot of the Year is chosen, and then to the regional level, where the regional Patriot of the Year is chosen, he said. West Virginia is in Region 1, which runs from Virginia to Maine. There are six regions.
From the six regional candidates, the Patriot of the Year is selected, Bircher said.
“It goes from 170 candidates down to one,” he said.
Kammeier still volunteers at the Martinsburg VA Medical Center’s nursing home once a week and teaches a brief history lesson there, he said. He chaired the VAVS Executive Council, which plans coordinated activities for hospitalized veterans and nursing home patients. He represented the VAMC at the Veterans Integrated Service Network Regional Headquarters in Baltimore.
He has received seven Outstanding Service Awards from the VAMC in Martinsburg and has been recognized by the American Legion, Marine Corps League and Daughters of the American Revolution.
He was featured in The Journal’s Unsung Heroes series in 2010.
Originally from Cold Spring, Minnesota, he joined the Marines on his 18th birthday, Feb. 14, 1951, during the Korean War. He arrived in Korea in December 1952, where he was attached to the 1st Marine Division. He saw one major battle during his tour. Otherwise, he went on a lot of patrols, he said.
After several assignments with the Marine Corps in Minnesota, Washington, D.C., and Albany, Georgia, he was sent to Vietnam in 1968, just in time for the Tet Offensive. He was an advisor to Vietnamese Marines, having attended Army Special Warfare School at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina.
“It was rewarding,” he told The Journal. “I felt that we did something. I worked with a Vietnamese Marine battalion and we got along well.”
It was during his tour of duty in Vietnam that he was wounded during an ambush for which he received the Purple Heart.
“It was a minor wound,” Kammeier said. “A ‘qualifying round.’ It wasn’t serious. Sometimes I feel guilty when I see guys who have lost limbs or worse.”
After Vietnam, he returned to Washington, where he served as the administration officer for the Marine commandant. He retired in 1974 with the rank of captain.
After the service, Kammeier spent two years as executive director of the Leatherneck Association and five years as executive director of the Marine Corps League. He also worked in the private sector for several years.
In an emergency, Kammeier was asked to step in as editor of the Purple Heart magazine. It was supposed to be for one issue only. He ended up editing the magazine for 12 years, he said.
He served as commander of MOPH Chapter 646 and adjutant of the chapter. He also served as adjutant for the West Virginia MOPH Department.
“I have a loving wife of 62 years, Mary, who lets me do a lot,” Kammeier said.
Chartered by Congress in 1958, The Military Order of the Purple Heart is composed of military men and women who received the Purple Heart Medal for wounds suffered in combat. Although MOPH membership is restricted to the combat wounded, it supports all veterans and their families with a myriad of nationwide programs by chapters and National Service Officers.
– Staff writer John McVey can be reached at 304-263-3381, ext. 128, or twitter.com/jmcveyJN.