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Widow claims husband's Purple Heart 45 years later

  • Widow fought to get military recognition for her husband
  • James F. Barris was injured in line of duty during Vietnam War
  • Barris: 'I will never stop fighting for him'
Widow claims husband's Purple Heart 45 years later

When Sherri Barris of Las Vegas, Nevada, accepted a Purple Heart for her deceased husband this year, it marked the end of a battle that had gone on for decades.

James F. Barris was a disabled veteran who was injured in the line of duty in 1968. He served in the U.S. Army during the Vietnam War as a sergeant E5.

Barris was due to receive a Purple Heart, but there was a paperwork mishap and the medal was never awarded, Sherri Barris told HLN.

When James Barris passed away in January at age 64, his wife was still determined that he be honored in the way he deserved. She continued to try to find a way to get the paperwork sorted, but then she got a phone call that made all the difference.

Read more: Faith, patience help heal a wounded warrior

A stranger, Steve Tarantino, found boxes of photos in a condominium storage unit more than 20 years ago that depicted a young Army specialist in Vietnam and wondered about their owner. At the time, he had no way to find the Barrises. But thanks to an Internet search that turned up James' obituary, Tarantino was able to make contact this year.

Thanks to those photos and some telegrams that detailed James Barris' injuries, Sherri Barris finally had the evidence she needed to prove that her husband deserved the medal.

"In fact, James was owed three Purple Hearts and a Bronze Star," she told HLN. "But that will take a while longer. I keep getting denied when I ask for his records."

James Barris was shot in the ankle two days after arriving in Vietnam. Then, two weeks later, he was shot in the shoulder. His final injury was his most severe, a mortar round that Sherri Barris told HLN blew the top of his stomach off.

"I always thank the Lord that he smoked," Sherri said. "The second time he was shot, he took the cellophane wrapper off his cigarettes and plugged the wound with it."

Sherri Barris remembers that her husband supported her mission to get the Purple Heart, but told her in the hospital that she shouldn't worry about the other medals and should focus on helping others instead.

"I want you to fight for the medal that is killing me," she said her husband told her.

Watch more: Military wives bare skin, souls, to fight PTSD

Sherri Barris' fight is far from over, though. She is a registered nurse and works as a home health specialist that focuses on Vietnam veterans. She said that more than half of the vets out there that should have been awarded Purple Hearts have not received them, and she intends to do something about that.

"There are 14 other veterans that I am working with and I want them to get the Purple Hearts they deserve as well," she said. 

Barris also said that she wants to go to medical schools and educate audiences about the effects of post-traumatic stress syndrome. 

"Whether I write a book, talk to students, or even make viral videos on YouTube, I will continue to get the word out there about PTSD," she said.

When asked if she would keep trying to win the other medals that she believes her husband was owed, Sherri Barris said she would.

'He is my soul mate," she said. "I will always fight for him."

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