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December 28, 2017 05:14 PM

Sen. Rounds Says He's Working To Get WWII Vet His Purple Heart

Flandreau veteran Sylvan Vigness' family hoped he would get his Purple Heart by January 4, his 94th birthday. 

Our KELOLAND News investigation looked into why this World War II veteran was denied the Purple Heart time and time again, for two decades.

Now on the heels of another KELOLAND News investigation that resulted in Korean War Veteran Gene Coyle finally getting his Purple Heart presented by Senator John Thune, we wanted to find out if Senator Mike Rounds was making any progress in Vigness' case.

About to turn 94, Vigness' memory of his injury 72 years ago is still clear, even though his eyesight isn't. 

"I remember kind of a stinging sensation in my eye and I went to the hospital ship and they put some drops in, covered it up and said, 'Come back in three days,'" Vigness said.

Vigness lost sight in his left eye after he was hit by shrapnel when a kamikaze crashed into the U.S.S. Hinsdale during the battle of Iwo Jima. Our KELOLAND News investigation showed you the nearly 20-year effort by Vigness' friends and family to get him the Purple Heart, to no avail. 

"A medic on board, or as the Navy calls them corpsmen, who might have put a dressing on his eye---but none of that would have been written down and the Navy says we have to have actual paperwork that says he was treated on the ship," Vigness' friend Curtis Eng said.

Vigness' son, Dan, began the long process of trying to get his father a Purple Heart.  Dan died of cancer without ever seeing his efforts pay off.  He worked through Senators Daschle's and Johnson's offices. Then a year ago Senator Mike Rounds picked up Vigness' case.

"I think he should have the Purple Heart, so what we've tried to do is to go back through and recreate all the records involved. If it was easy, it would have been done a long time ago," Rounds said.

Vigness' family and friends have submitted document after document, even letters from Vigness' shipmates testifying he lost his sight during the kamikaze attack.  Rounds told us he'd push the issue.

Sen. Mike Rounds: If we're not getting the right answer we think is appropriate, we're going to take the next step up and go to the supervisors of those individuals and we're just going to keep working on this thing until we get to the point where we think justice has been served.
Angela Kennecke: And time is of the essence?
Rounds: Yes. 

While it's not likely that Vigness will get his Purple Heart by his birthday next week, we'll continue to follow this story and let you know what happens. 

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