Otsego County is officially a “Purple Heart County,” following a May 25 vote by the county Board of Representatives.

Rep. Rick Brockway, R-Laurens, Otego, brought the resolution forward and shepherded it through board committees prior to its approval.

“I wasn’t a veteran. I wasn’t wounded. I wasn’t in war, but something I just wanted to do,” he said Wednesday following the board meeting. “This should have been done years ago, but you know, nobody took ahold of the reins and got it done.”

Brockway said he felt that veterans, especially those injured or killed in action, needed the recognition.

The board unanimously approved the symbolic designation during a special meeting Wednesday. The resolution states that “the people of Otsego County have great respect, admiration and the utmost gratitude for all the men and women who have selflessly served their country and county in the armed forces.”

The resolution goes on to honor the contributions and sacrifices of local veterans who received the Purple Heart Medal “as a result of being wounded or killed while engaged in combat with an enemy force, construed as a singularly meritorious act of essential service.”

The county highway department is making Purple Heart signs that will be erected on county highways where they cross into Otsego County. Brockway said he expects the signs to be erected in June.

Brockway has located three Otsego County Purple Heart veterans, but said he is trying to find more.

Joseph Borawa of Unadilla served as an Army combat medic in South Vietnam. On September 22, 1967, he was wounded during a daylong firefight in a region of rice paddies, was evacuated by air and spent five months in hospitals stateside, he said during an interview Wednesday.

“You will never know who has a Purple Heart. Because it’s not something that people talk about,” Borawa said. “If you’ve been in war, you’d understand.”

There is no national list of Purple Heart recipients, and privacy laws prevent the military or Veterans Administration from disclosing names, he said.

Borawa retired after 44 years as a truck driver, and said he started to struggle with PTSD. He found it hard to be around crowds of people, and sought help from the VA.

“They gave me ideas on how to suppress information and put it in a better light, … makes it a little bit easier to talk about it,” he said.

He’s not in touch with anyone with whom he served.

“I never got close with people on the line. Because it was too hard to take care of them,” he said. His job was to ferry the wounded and dead from the field to a position where they could get blood and be evaluated.

“What a waste of human life, so many injuries,” he said. “People don’t realize what it’s like to go to war. I mean, I was 19 years old.” He described being in the situation of needing to kill or be killed. “That’s a lot to put on a 19-year-old, and people have no idea what it’s like to be shot at. Or watch somebody get blown up. There’s nothing that you know can compare to that. It’s horrible.”

The county is planning a commemorative ceremony at the start of the next county board meeting, Wednesday, June 1 at 9:30 a.m. in the County Office Building at 197 Main St. in Cooperstown.

“The board would like to invite those who have been awarded, and any representatives of deceased Purple Heart recipients, to attend the ceremony to be recognized for their service and sacrifice for the country,” Brockway said.

“Somebody had to go to do what nobody else wanted to do. And I believe in my country,” Borawa said. He said he plans to attend the ceremony, but is uncertain about the idea of speaking in public about his experiences.

Mike Forster Rothbart, staff writer, can be reached at mforsterrothbart@thedailystar.com or 607-441-7213. Follow him at @DS_MikeFR on Twitter.

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