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Congressman Higgins presents Purple Heart to sister of Korean War soldier killed in action


Congressman Brian Higgins (NY-26) presented the sister of United States Army Private First Class (PFC) Richard Harla with the Purple Heart and five additional military service medals earned while serving in the Korean War.  PFC Harla was killed in action in 1951. 

"The 187th Infantry Division's motto is 'Let Valor Not Fail;' Private Harla not only lived by that adage, he died for it," said Congressman Higgins. "But the wounds extend beyond the battlefield and deep into the hearts of people like Christine and all who love the fallen.  Private Harla's selfless sacrifice is forever etched into the foundation of freedom that each of our soldiers pledge to defend, and every American generation past and present is so very fortunate to build on."

"We cannot possibly understand the depth of sorrow felt by the family of fallen hero, Private First Class Richard Harla," said Assemblymember Monica Wallace. "However, we share with PFC's Harla's family a deep pride in his selflessness to serve and for answering the call to duty. I'm truly honored to join Congressman Higgins today at the presentation of a new Purple Heart to PFC Harla's sister, Christine Kasprzak. May our community never forget PFC Harla's legacy and his contributions to the cause of freedom."

Born in 1932, Richard Francis Harla grew up in Buffalo, New York and entered the United States Army to serve during the Korean War.  He was a member of the Army's elite 187th Airborne Infantry Regiment, better known as the Rakkasans, derived from the Japanese language, meaning "falling umbrella."  The 187th is the only airborne regiment of the United States Army with the distinction of serving in all major conflicts and wars since the commencement of airborne warfare in 1940.

During the Korean War, the 187th Infantry Division, which served as a parachute unit, was sent to Inchon landing, for a critical and daring surprise attack, which continues to be considered one of the best executed operations in military history.  The Rakkasans also participated in Operation Tomahawk, the second largest airborne operation during the Korean War, which involved dropping over 3,400 paratroopers north of the front line.

A total of more than 50,000 Americans and allies were killed, captured or missing in action during the Korean War. The 187th suffered 2,115 casualties in Korea, including 442 killed in action.  Private First Class Harla was among those who would never make it home, killed in action while fighting the enemy in North Korea on May 26, 1951.  Mr. Harla was laid to rest in Saint Stanislaus Cemetery in Cheektowaga.

U.S. Navy Veteran John Stiegler recently reached out to Congressman Higgins' office to share the story of PFC Harla's service after learning the veteran's sister Christine Kasprzak was left with a Purple Heart that was damaged.   Ms. Kasprzak is a resident of the Town of Cheektowaga and works in the kitchen at the Cheektowaga Senior Center.

"It is a privilege to honor the service and sacrifice of PFC Richard Harla in Cheektowaga today," said Cheektowaga Supervisor Diane Benczkowski.  "Thank you John Stiegler for advocating on behalf of the Harla family to make sure PFC Harla received the full recognition he deserved for his service and sacrifice during the Korean War.  Most importantly we thank Christine Kasprzak and her family for the sacrifice that her brother Richard made in service to our country.  We are forever grateful."

Congressman Higgins was joined by representatives of the United States Army, Military Order of the Purple Heart Chapter 187, additional veterans, local leaders and friends of Ms. Kasprzak for a special ceremony at the Senior Center recognizing the service of Private First Class Richard Harla.

U.S. Army Captain and Buffalo Recruiting Center Commander Randy D. Warren II, and U.S. Army Battalion Commander Lieutenant Colonel Bryan R. Kilbride assisted with the presentation of the following medals earned by PFC Harla 67 years ago:

  •          United Nations Service Medal – for service on behalf of the United Nations in Korea
  •          Combat Infantryman Badge, 1st Award - awarded to an infantryman who personally fought in active ground combat while assigned as members of an infantry
  •          Korean Service Medal - for U.S. service members who performed duty in the Republic of Korea between June 1950 and July 1954
  •          National Defense Service Medal – presented to those who served honorably during periods war or conflict declared a national emergency
  •          Good Conduct Medal - awarded to an active-duty enlisted member of the United States military who completes three consecutive years of "honorable and faithful service" or for one year of faithful service during times of war.
  •          The Purple Heart

The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers who have been injured or killed due to hostile actions while serving with the U.S. Armed Services.  The original Purple Heart, designated as the Badge of Military Merit, was established by General George Washington in 1782.

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