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Wounded in action

August 23, 2003|by ANDREW SCHOTZ

andrews@herald-mail.com

When she wheeled herself into the Funkstown American Legion hall Friday, the only thing purple about Mary Burral was the stuffed butterfly propping up her injured left leg.

Inside, in front of about 125 delighted admirers, Burral's dress green Army uniform was adorned with three new colors - a Purple Heart, a red Good Conduct Medal and a green Army Commendation Medal.

Burral, of Boonsboro, suffered severe injuries to her left knee and leg May 16 while serving as a specialist with the U.S. Army's 54th Engineer Battalion in Iraq. A truck she was in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade.

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Burral turned 25 on Aug. 6, the day she had stitches removed from her leg after her latest surgery. The prognosis is that she won't be able to bend her leg again.

Major Gen. James A. Cheatham, the deputy chief of engineers at the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers headquarters in Washington, pinned the three medals on Burral's chest during an informal ceremony Friday evening.

1st Lt. Corey Genevicz of the 54th Engineer Battalion explained some of the background. The Purple Heart is awarded for being wounded in action. The Good Conduct Medal is for exemplary behavior, efficiency and fidelity.

The Army Commendation Medal denotes meritorious achievement. The recommendation for that medal says Burral "played a significant role in the building of ten three-hole latrines in a 72-hour timeline" while working with the 3rd Armored Cavalry Regiment. It also says her "ability to work the circular saw, power drill, and the jig saw proved to be invaluable."

"Spc. Burral's work ethics and motivation paved the way for a better and healthier environment," the recommendation says.

Cheatham said that the military engineers in Iraq are doing hard, important work that isn't often mentioned in stories about the war.

Genevicz played a 10-minute piece, edited like a music video, showing Burral's battalion at work. Songs by AC/DC, Metallica and Ozzy Osbourne were the background to hundreds of still and moving images of a soldier shaving, a camel crossing the road, Iraqis cheering and more.

The 54th Engineer Battalion is based in Bamberg, Germany.

Sitting front and center in her wheelchair, Burral accepted praise and warm wishes from several speakers.

"Mary, you're an awesome young lady," said Karen Compher, president of the auxiliary unit at the Funkstown American Legion. "You have done something that I have always wanted to do. I have felt bad all my life because I really wanted to go into the military."

Sen. Donald F. Munson, R-Washington, said Burral has made the community proud.

"I just want to thank you for defending our freedom," said Delegate Christopher B. Shank, R-Washington.

"You very much took your training at Boonsboro High School - the Warriors - to heart," Shank added, drawing laughter from the crowd.

After the fanfare subsided and dozens of pictures had been snapped, Burral said she knew she'd receive a Purple Heart, but was surprised by the other honors.

Burral said she joined the Army because she "needed something different" than the retail job she had and wanted to "get out of Hagerstown and Boonsboro."

"My mother said, 'Why not the military?,'" Burral recalled. "I just kind of jumped into it."

Two-and-a-half years ago, Burral signed a five-year contract with the Army. She said she never planned to serve longer than that. She expects to go back to college to study interior decorating.

Burral said she had a metal rod inserted in her leg in July and must wait another two months before she can put any weight on it.

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