Daris Long, red cap, salutes the flag-drapped casket of his son, Army Pvt. William Long, at Arkansas Veterans Cemetery in North Little Rock, Ark., on June 8, 2009. Pvts. William Long and Quinton Ezeagwula were shot and killed by Abdulhakim Mujahid Muhammad at a recruiting center in Arkansas. (Danny Johnston / The Associated Press)
Arkansas’ four congressmen blasted the Defense Department on Thursday for what they called an unnecessary delay in a decision on Purple Hearts for a pair of Army recruiters killed by a religious fanatic in Little Rock five years ago.
In a letter to Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel, the lawmakers — Republican Reps. Rick Crawford, Tim Griffin, Steve Womack and Tom Cotton — demanded that military officials finish their review into awards for the Arkansas attack and the 2009 shooting at Fort Hood, Texas, when an Army psychologist killed 13 and wounded 32 others.
“The delay in this report and DoD’s insistence that these brave men and women do not deserve the honor of being awarded the Purple Heart has denied these service members and their families essential benefits that are provided to Purple Heart recipients,” the letter states. “We find this continued inaction by the DoD disgraceful, as well as unlawful.”
Labeling the Arkansas and Texas crimes as terrorist attacks and awarding Purple Hearts to their victims has been an ongoing cause for conservative House members, who have criticized both the Pentagon and Obama administration for ignoring the religious motivations behind the attacks.
In both cases, the shooters were Muslims who maintained that their crimes were in response to U.S. actions in the Middle East.
Family members of the Arkansas soldiers killed — Pvts. William Long and Quinton Ezeagwula — also have pushed for the recognition. In April, House members included language in a draft of the 2015 defense authorization bill that would require an analysis of what benefits and death payouts victims’ families would receive if the two shootings were reclassified as terrorist attacks.
The 2014 defense authorization bill required defense officials to reconsider whether Purple Hearts should be awarded in both crimes, but Pentagon officials delayed that report until July 2015, to coincide with the completion of a larger military awards review.
The Pentagon called the review an “extremely sensitive issue” given the “historical prestige and legacy of the Purple Heart.”
But the Arkansas delegation called those excuses off-base, saying the department has had five years to review and reverse its decision not to award the Purple Heart.
“All of the men and women killed or wounded in these attacks were victims of terrorism, targeted because they were soldiers,” the letter states. “They deserve this recognition for their service and their sacrifice.”