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Another Purple Heart for Gabby

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Another Purple Heart for Gabby

  • Al Lee discusses giving his Purple Heart coin to Giffords, as Pam Simon holds the challenge coin.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comAl Lee discusses giving his Purple Heart coin to Giffords, as Pam Simon holds the challenge coin.
  • Lee holds his Purple heart challenge coin.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comLee holds his Purple heart challenge coin.
  • Simon, Lee, his wife Tina and sons, Marcus and Christopher.
    Dylan Smith/TucsonSentinel.comSimon, Lee, his wife Tina and sons, Marcus and Christopher.

U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, still recovering from a shot through the brain, was informally awarded another Purple Heart on Wednesday.

Army veteran Al Lee said that Giffords deserves the honor.

"She was injured in the line of duty," he said.

"I wanted her to have it because of her strong support of veterans and her ability to always recognize a military servicemember such as myself," Lee said.

Lee, who was awarded the medal after being wounded in Fallujah, Iraq, in Sept. 2003, presented his Purple Heart challenge coin to Pam Simon, Giffords' community outreach director, on Wednesday.

The congresswoman's spokesman said he will give the coin to Giffords in Houston on Friday.

This is the second time a veteran has given a Purple Heart to Giffords. The afternoon of Jan. 8, the same day the congresswoman and 18 others (including Simon) were shot, an anonymous veteran left his medal at University Medical Center.

Giffords' staff has not learned who left his medal for Giffords.

"We don't know who he is," her husband, Navy Capt. Mark Kelly said in January.

"We keep that Purple Heart in her room with her," he said.

The medal was pinned to Giffords' pillow while she was at UMC.

C.J. Karamargin, Giffords' spokesman, could not say Wednesday if the first medal made the journey to Houston with the congresswoman.

Lee, the commander of the Military Order of the Purple Heart in Sierra Vista, now works as a civilian advisor to the U.S. Marines. He is moving to Okinawa, and his Purple Heart is already packed away, he said.

If he could have found it, Lee would have given medal to Giffords, instead of the challenge coin, he said.

"It's a great gesture on the part of a constituent," Karamargin said.

Lee said he appreciates that Giffords always remembers him, he said, noting that she has been a strong advocate for veterans and servicemembers on the House Armed Services Committee.

"She's been there for us," he said.

I feel that she was injured in combat. She was injured while serving, on duty," said Lee, who suffered traumatic brain injuries in Iraq.

"All I wanted to do was show her that one of her constituents was thinking about her," Lee said. "It was the least I could do."

"I will fly all the freaking way back here when she is able to say 'Thank you,'" Lee said. "I will be here for that."

The Purple Heart is awarded to service members who are wounded or killed. Most Purple Hearts awarded are from World War II-era stocks of the medal minted in anticipation of heavy casualties from a proposed invasion of Japan.

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