ASHLAND, Maine — A local man received a special honor on Veterans Day when he was presented with the Purple Heart for meritorious and courageous service in the Korean War.
In that conflict, Cpl. Joseph Norman O’Clair, now 84 and known by most as “Norman,” was wounded in the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge. He was the guest of honor on Nov. 11 at a special ceremony held at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 9699 in Ashland.
The medal was secured and presented by staff of Rep. Bruce Poliquin, Maine’s 2nd District congressman.
“Our office is grateful to assist in obtaining the Purple Heart. It’s also wonderful to see how much it meant to the family that [the ceremony] was on Veterans Day,” Kim Rohn of Poliquin’s Presque Isle office said. “There were more than 60 family members and friends who attended. Everyone was so very proud of Mr. O’Clair.”
Rohn said a sister was able to come from North Carolina for the event.
“It was very festive — balloons, cake and food — and lots of photos were taken and [there were] lots of hugs and congratulations. Cpl. O’Clair received several standing ovations and cheers while the medal and the flag were presented,” Rohn said.
O’Clair served in the U.S. Army from 1950 to 1953. During the intense, monthlong Battle of Heartbreak Ridge, a North Korean attack initiated a landslide that crushed the Ashland man’s lower body, breaking his right leg and hip. More than 64 years later, that leg remains 3 inches shorter than the left.
Despite the injury, O’Clair returned to Aroostook County and was employed at Fournier Logging and later Pinkham Lumber, where he worked alongside two of his three sons as a saw filer.
O’Clair’s daughter, Barbara Gillis of Ashland, said Veterans Day was one of the best days her dad has had in a long time.
“He was very pleased that we had so many people [at the ceremony],” she said Friday. “I’ve just never seen my dad so happy. He was really pleased to see everyone and to have the family at this function. He thoroughly enjoyed being out. He had a great evening, and he’s still talking about it.”
O’Clair has been married to his wife, Lydia, for 61 years. They have five children: daughters Gillis and Nora Clark, and sons Arnold, Steven and Andrew O’Clair. He also has four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
The flag he received actually flew over the White House, Gillis said. She also expressed the family’s gratitude to Rohn and to the local VFW members for their efforts in putting on the ceremony at the VFW hall in Ashland.
Although Poliquin himself wasn’t able to attend, he conveyed personal greetings by phone, which delighted the guest of honor immensely, his daughter noted.
“He was very pleased to be able to talk with Rep. Poliquin on the cellphone. Rep. Poliquin called him, and that was a highlight of his evening,” his daughter remarked.
“I want to commend Cpl. Joseph O’Clair for his courage and thank him for his sacrifice,” Poliquin said in a special statement. “We are forever indebted to him and those he served alongside. While long overdue, this Purple Heart is well-deserved and is presented as a small token of our nation’s great appreciation for your brave efforts to keep us safe and free.”
The O’Clair family had enlisted Poliquin’s help in September to secure recognition of their father’s service in Korea and the injuries he suffered there.
Gillis she was very happy the family saw the whole thing through.
“Dad’s just wonderful. He’s always been amazing. He’s a very strong man and been through an awful lot. We’re very happy we had the ceremony,” she said. “He’s always been there for us, and with or without the Purple Heart, he’s our hero.”