You are here
Be the first to comment on this article.
History is Full of Heroes
History is full of heroes, each with their own story. But many times, these stories remain untold until someone simply stumbles upon them. This is true in the case of Ron Arpino, a Korean War veteran whose remarkable story remained undiscovered for 60 years.
Arpino was not only a proud veteran, he was also a hero. An official report dated November 30, 1953 details Arpino’s courageous actions during battle that would earn him both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
But it is his journey after the Korean War that captured the hearts and minds of thousands.
Although he earned the Purple Heart, Arpino declined receiving the award for fear that the news might have made his family think that he had been either mortally wounded or killed in action. Sergeant Arpino survived the war, but never pursued the Purple Heart award that he deserved. This was a secret that would weigh on him for decades.
Photo of Sergeant Arpino, 20 years old
This article follows the story of Sergeant William (Ron) Arpino from the turbulent battlefields in Paugol, Korea, to his final peaceful weeks under hospice care in Pennsylvania.
Firefight in Paugol
In July, 1953, Sergeant William R. Arpino (then Private First Class), was serving overseas in Paugol, Korea as a member of an infantry company. On July 15, 1953, Sergeant Arpino’s company was given the mission of protecting an outpost that held great strategic value to the Allied force’s efforts in the area.
The struggle that took place over the outpost resulted in several casualties for the Allied forces. Hours of enemy bombardment was followed by a direct infantry attack. Despite their dogged efforts, Allied forces were unable to halt the numerically superior Communist advance.
During the chaos, Sergeant Arpino found himself in one of the worst situations a soldier could imagine. His squad had been cut off and would have to survive as a small isolated group, with no assistance from the rest of the platoon.
Heroism Under Duress
Although we can try and imagine, nobody can predict how they would act in a situation like the one Sergeant Arpino was faced with on July 15, 1953. Arpino emerged as a leader during crisis. Under his direction, the small group of Allied soldiers successfully halted constant waves of enemy advances for more than ten hours.
Sergeant Arpino, 1953
During these grueling hours, Arpino, with no regard for his own safety, exposed himself to enemy fire in order to save a wounded soldier. When the Allied counteroffensive was finally launched, Arpino continued to fight for several more hours until the vital outpost had be re-secured.
Escape from Commendation
Following the intense fighting, Sergeant Arpino found himself in a medical tent in order to be treated for injuries he had sustained during the battle. It was during this time when he learned of his nomination for both the Silver Star and the Purple Heart.
Rather than revel in his own heroics, Arpino immediately thought of how his family, particularly his mother, would react when they heard the news that he had been awarded the Purple Heart. Upon hearing of her son’s award, Arpino’s mother (like any mother of a soldier during the Korean War) would think that her son had sustained terrible injuries or, that he was already dead.
The Arpino Family – Taken before Sergeant Arpino’s Deployment
In order to save his mother from suffering emotional turmoil, Arpino slipped out of the medical tent and decided never to pursue the Purple Heart that he had earned on the battlefield.
Life after the War
Arpino survived active duty and returned home to the U.S. following the Korean War. His life, like many others’, was filled with both good times and bad times. Arpino was a valuable friend to many, as well as a loving family man. Although confident and sociable, he was never known for touting his own accomplishments. He was a proud veteran and was known by many for his humor and humility, not for his heroics in Paugol.
Ron Arpino (second from left) with his children
Years continued to pass and Arpino’s time as an enlisted man became more and more distant. Although Arpino may have accepted that he would never receive his Purple Heart, fate had something else in mind.
Safe Haven at Holy Redeemer
When Arpino received a terminal diagnosis, he made the decision to enroll in hospice care at Holy Redeemer hospital in July, 2014. Arpino was mostly bed bound and dealt with serious pain and other significant symptoms. Holy Redeemer Hospice volunteer coordinator, Jean Francis, described Arpino as being constantly upbeat and alert despite the difficult symptoms he was experiencing. Arpino was a vibrant personality and was very popular with staff and patients during his time at Holy Redeemer.
Conversations with a Volunteer
Hospice volunteer Bob Lopez-Cepero visited Mr. Arpino regularly during his time in the hospice inpatient unit. Bob immediately found common ground with the Korean War vet due to their shared military interests.
During the course of their conversations, Bob learned of Arpino’s remarkable military achievements and of the Purple Heart that he never received. The conversation between a hospice patient and volunteer would become the impetus for the remarkable events that followed.
An Idea is Born
When Bob shared Arpino’s story with the staff at Holy Redeemer Hospice, they decided to find a way to recognize an unsung hero who had gone unnoticed for far too long. Collectively, they began to organize a way to get Sergeant Arpino the Purple Heart he deserved.
Coordinating a ceremony to honor Sergeant Arpino required several steps. Bob championed the idea and was even able to bring Arpino’s story to the attention of Congressmen Mike Fitzpatrick (a veteran himself) who is a proponent of helping veterans. Congressmen Fitzpatrick’s office helped to locate Arpino’s discharge papers and medical records.
With the coordinated efforts of many at Holy Redeemer Hospice, the idea of having a ceremony to honor Arpino became a reality. The hospice volunteer coordinator handled the process of acquiring a replacement/replica medal and planned a ceremony in which Arpino could receive a replica Purple Heart.
On August 11, 2014, family and fellow veterans gathered at Holy Redeemer Hospital to recognize Arpino’s service during the Korean War that went above and beyond the call of duty. Filling the hospital’s auditorium were Arpino’s family—his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
During the beginning of the ceremony, fellow Korean War veterans of PA VFW Post 3258 assembled to acknowledge Arpino’s accomplishments at Holy Redeemer Hospital in Montgomery County (photo provided by Holy Redeemer Hospice).
The ceremony served as both a celebration of Arpino’s life and a chance for loved ones to say “goodbye” to the 82-year-old terminally ill veteran. He passed away on August 23, only 12 days after the ceremony.
Unexpected Media Attention
Arpino never boasted about his military accomplishments, but even without self-promotion, his story touched the lives of thousands. The pinning ceremony was televised by major regional stations including NBC 10, 6-ABC, Fox-29 in addition to several online and print news outlets.
NBC-10 broadcast show Sergeant Arpino saluting in acceptance of the Purple Heart award
A Purple Heart Finds a Home
Chuck Klein was one of the thousands who were touched by Arpino’s story. Klein’s father, Melvin, had also received the Purple Heart award and left it to his son. Klein does not have children and had always feared that his father’s medal would be lost to a dusty attic box or become a trinket at a pawn shop.
”The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the US who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy or, to the next of kin to those who are killed in action and/or die of wounds received in action” – Military Order of the Purple Heart.
Klein gave his father’s authentic Purple Heart to the Arpino family in order to replace the replica Arpino had received during the ceremony. The Klein and the Arpino families remain friends and now and the two families now celebrate the lives of both heroes--Ron and Melvin.
A Family says, “Thank you.” to Hospice
During a phone interview, Arpino’s daughter Lu was asked about the role that hospice played in the final phase of her father’s life and how she felt about hospice after her father’s passing.
Lu and the rest of the Arpino family are extremely grateful for the hospice care both her father and his family caregivers received during his time at Holy Redeemer. Once Mr. Arpino was enrolled, the family noticed an immediate improvement in his quality of life thanks to hospice care. Lu remarked that during a personal conversation with her father, he shared that he felt at home in the inpatient facility and that he thought of the staff as his close family.
Lu credits Holy Redeemer Hospice with creating a celebration in lieu of mourning. The family appreciates the opportunity they had to celebrate Ron Arpino’s life. Lu stated that she “could never ever thank hospice enough”.
How hospice helps veterans
Hospice has a long history of reaching out to veterans. Ron Arpino’s purple heart award ceremony was made possible in part by the extraordinary efforts of his hospice team.
Every year hospice providers nationwide recognize the unique needs of America’s veterans and their families near the end of life. We Honor Veterans is a joint program between the National Hospice & Palliative Care Organization and the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) which improves the lives of veterans through a variety of initiatives. Programs like We Honor Veterans help to make moments like Ron Arpino’s pinning ceremony possible.
This article was written by NHPCO staff member Alex Caruso.
NHPCO would like to thank Holy Redeemer Hospice and the Arpino family for their collaboration and cooperation in creating this article.
Be the first to comment on this article.