Michael Paccerelli earned a Purple Heart for injuries he suffered in Iraq in 2004 when an improvised explosive device destroyed his Humvee. But the paperwork got lost twice, and the medal didn’t catch up with him until Friday in Spokane.
Although the delay was puzzling, Paccerelli did see one advantage to receiving the medal four years late.
“I’m happy that my family can see it,” the 27-year-old Colville resident said of the ceremony at the Washington National Guard’s new Readiness Center.
With his wife, Melissa, three children, and father, Joe Paccerelli, looking on, U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers pinned a Purple Heart on Paccerelli to applause from city and state officials and crowd of veterans.
Paccerelli was a cavalry scout with the 1st Armored Division’s 2nd Brigade in June 2004 during his first tour of duty in Iraq. He was a gunner on a Humvee, the second in a line of six vehicles returning from a patrol south of Baghdad, when the line passed a trailer parked on the side of the road.
As his Humvee came even with the trailer, two mortar rounds hidden under the trailer were detonated by remote control. The vehicle was blown apart; Paccerelli was knocked unconscious. At a field hospital, he reported a severe headache and some hearing loss. He was given some ibuprofen and told to rest.
Three days later he was back on patrol.
“In early 2004 nobody knew about traumatic brain injury,” Paccerelli said.
Now, traumatic brain injury from bombs, mines and improvised explosive devices is recognized as among the most common medical problems for veterans who served in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Paccerelli, who served a second term in Iraq in 2005-’06, has since been diagnosed with traumatic brain injury and severe hearing loss, and given a 100 percent disability rating. He has post-traumatic stress disorder and headaches, and sometimes has trouble concentrating, he said. He is receiving treatment at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Spokane.
Awarding Paccerelli his Purple Heart gave veterans groups a chance to mark the 226th anniversary of the founding of the nation’s oldest military medal.
For him, it had a more personal meaning.
“It validates what happened to me, there in Iraq. But there’s tons more soldiers that are just as deserving,” he said.