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Grand Haven Purple Hearts Come Home

All 17 Purple Hearts, as well as other WWI artifacts from our Collection, will be on display through February 28, 2023 in our Community Curator Case on the lower floor of the Akeley Building. 

The journey to ensure 17 Grand Haven WWI soldiers received their Purple Heart medals unintentionally began in 2019 when Dr. Chris Petras, a member of the Sons of the American Legion Squadron 28 Grand Haven, wanted to know more about the Post’s namesake, Charles A. Conklin. Conklin served as a machine gunner in the 42nd “Rainbow” Division. During a barrage of artillery fire by the German Army, Conklin was gravely wounded. Three days later, he died of his wounds received in action. 


Petras wondered if Conklin ever received a Purple Heart medal for his sacrifice. He inquired locally but couldn’t find an answer. That’s when he decided to dig deeper, researching National Archives documents, military documents, and numerous publications pertaining to the 42nd Rainbow Division, tracing Conklin’s journey across France, during WWI, to the front line. 


Unfortunately, it was discovered that Conklin’s military personnel files were consumed in a warehouse fire just outside St. Louis, Missouri, in 1973. It seemed Conklin’s eligibility for the Purple Heart would forever be a mystery. However, Dr. Petras remembered finding a U.S. Army document recording Charles A. Conklin’s cause of death---died of wounds received in action. Petras submitted the document, and after review by the U.S. Army, received the news that  Charles A. Conklin was eligible to receive the Purple Heart medal. Representative Bill Huizenga posthumously presented Conklin’s Purple Heart medal at a ceremony in Grand Haven in 2020. 


Having helped honor Conklin with the Purple Heart medal, Petras wondered if the namesake of the VFW Post 2326 Grand Haven had received a Purple Heart medal for making the supreme sacrifice for his country: Alvin F. Jonker enlisted in Company F Grand Haven in 1917 and was killed in action in 1918. Once again, Petras discovered a key document which led to Jonker receiving the Purple Heart, posthumously. 

Dr. Petras couldn’t stop there. He dug even deeper and found an additional 21 Grand Haven WWI soldiers who enlisted in Michigan National Guard Company F Grand Haven in 1917 and who were either wounded in action, died of wounds received in action or were killed in action. In his research, Petras found that four of the soldiers may have already received Purple Heart medals prior to 2000. However, 17 of the soldiers were deemed ready to submit for eligibility consideration. Following months of additional research and submissions, Petras was notified that all 17 Grand Haven WWI soldiers were eligible to receive the Purple Heart. 


The Grand Haven Purple Hearts Ceremony on January 21, 2023 is the culmination of much dedication and months of work on the histories of these 21 soldiers, and a long-overdue recognition of their sacrifice and service.

Grand Haven Veterans Who Received The Purple Heart on January 21, 2023

Private 1st Class Edward Hiler

Birth: Nov 20, 1897

Death: July 31, 1918

Died of wounds received in action: Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Corporal Daniel Van Woerkom

Birth: December 28, 1898

Death: November 25, 1968

Wounded in Action: July 31, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Private Frank L. Fortino

Birth: March 24, 1898

Death: April 28, 1974

Wounded in Action: August 1, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Private Arthur Wuennecke

Birth: March 9, 1894

Death: July 6, 1965

Wounded in Action: August 2, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Sergeant Paul Fett

Birth: July 8, 1893

Death: August 28, 1918

Wounded in Action: August 6, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Killed in Action: August 28, 1918/Oise-Aisne (Juvigny)

Sergeant William H. Van Horssen, Jr.

Birth: September 16, 1896

Death: September 3, 1918

Killed in Action: September 3, 1918/Oise-Aisne (Juvigny)

Corporal Leland Marr

Birth: July 3, 1896

Death: June 2, 1969

Wounded in Action: August 28, 1918/Oise-Aisne (Juvigny)

Corporal Walter Meeuwsen

Birth: October 9, 1895

Death: July 20, 1936

Wounded in Action: October 9, 1918/Meuse-Argonne

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1st Lieutenant Edward Grant Garnsey, Jr.*

Born: October 20, 1897

Death: October 29, 1918

Killed in Action: During aerial combat 

Sergeant Henry Nietering

Birth: September 28, 1892

Death: July 17, 1970

Wounded in Action: July 31, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Private 1st Class Martin J. Van Horssen

Birth: March 5, 1888

Death: 1941

Wounded in Action: July 31, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Private 1st Class John A. Vyn, Jr.

Birth: November 18, 1899

Death: May 12, 1956

Wounded in Action: August 3, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Private 1st Class William T. Baker, Jr.

Birth: February 28, 1897

Death: March 29, 1969

Wounded in Action: August 6, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Corporal Ernest VandenBosch

Birth: May 1, 1898

Death: November 1, 1949

Wounded in Action: August 4, 1918/Marne-Aisne (Chateau-Thierry)

Corporal Edward Mastenbrook

Birth: May 20, 1895

Death: July 8, 1983

Wounded in Action: Oise-Aisne (Juvigny)

Private 1st Class Arnold Smith

Birth: July 11, 1898

Death: April 3, 1971

Wounded in Action: October 1, 1918/Meuse-Argonne

Sergeant Joseph Swartz

Birth: November 2, 1892

Death: December 27, 1976

Wounded in Action: October 9, 1918/Meuse-Argonne

*1st Lt. Garnsey, Jr served in the U.S. Army Air Service; He enlisted in Michigan National Guard Company F Grand Haven in 1917, however, 1st Lt. Garnsey Jr., trained at different military camps. 

94th Aero Squadron, Company D, 325th Airborne Infantry Regiment (activated August 28, 1917)

History of the Purple Heart Award

In 1782, General George Washington set forth these instructions for the "Badge of Military Merit", which later became the Purple Heart, the most recognized award for those serving in the U.S. military. The Purple Heart is ranked immediately behind the bronze star and ahead of the Defense Meritorious Service Medal in order of precedence.


“The General ever desirous to cherish virtuous ambition in his soldiers, as well as to foster and encourage every species of Military merit, directs that whenever any singularly meritorious action is performed, the author of it shall be permitted to wear on his facings over the left breast, the figure of a heart in purple cloth, or silk, edged with narrow lace or binding.  Not only instances of unusual gallantry, but also of extraordinary fidelity and essential service in any way shall meet with a due reward. Before this favour can be conferred on any man, the particular fact, or facts, on which it is to be grounded must be set forth to the Commander in chief accompanied with certificates from the Commanding officers of the regiment and brigade to which the Candidate for reward belonged, or other incontestable proofs, and upon granting it, the name and regiment of the person with the action so certified are to be enrolled in the book of merit which will be kept at the orderly office. Men who have merited this last distinction to be suffered to pass all guards and sentinels which officers are permitted to do. The road to glory in a patriot army and a free country is thus open to all. This order is also to have retrospect to the earliest stages of the war, and to be considered as a permanent one.” 

About Dr. Chris Petras
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Born in Wisconsin, raised in Michigan, Dr. Chris Petras kept his mid-western roots while earning a Doctorate in Public Administration and Public Policy from Western Michigan University. Over the last decade, Dr. Petras has co-authored and published several articles in professional publications, such as Police Chief Magazine and Public Management, on various public/non-profit leadership topics.


When Dr. Petras moved to the Grand Haven-area, he discovered a rich military history woven into the community fabric. It was a natural fit. Dr. Petras’ late grandfather served in WWII. Several of his ancestors also served in various wars, including the Civil War and WWI. Wanting to learn more about Grand Haven and its military history, Dr. Petras researched a plethora of materials and discovered Grand Haven soldiers played an integral role in WWI. Digging deeper, he uncovered documents which led to the posthumous awarding of Purple Heart medals to the namesakes of Grand Haven’s American Legion and VFW Posts, Charles A. Conklin and Alvin F. Jonker, respectively.


Dr. Petras’ research and insights on Grand Haven during WWI and the local American Legion Post have been featured in American Legion and Sons of the American Legion publications and in guest columns for the local Grand Haven newspaper. In 2019, Dr. Petras published a book on the first 100-years of Charles A. Conklin American Legion Post 28 and co-produced and directed a documentary film, based on the book, with acclaimed West Michigan documentary filmmaker, Daniel Joel Deal. The documentary has broadcast on regional PBS television stations.

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