Still of service: Purple Heart veteran steps up at St. Rita Parish
FORT WORTH — U.S. Army Sgt. Major George Webster, retired, a parishioner at St. Rita Church in Fort Worth, has lived a life of service to his country and to the Catholic church.
A decorated veteran of the Vietnam War who has become a popular usher at St. Rita, Webster, 84, was made a member of the Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor, New York.
It's in recognition of Webster's heroic actions in 1968 while a member of Company D, 3rd Battalion, 22nd Infantry Regiment, 25th Infantry Division during the Vietnam War.
Then Staff Sgt. Webster was cited for gallantry in action when, on June 12, 1968, during a routine reconnaissance in force mission, Company D came under an intense enemy attack. Disregarding his own safety, Webster crawled through intense enemy fire to a more advantageous position where he laid down "devastating" fire on the enemy positions. Although wounded himself in the face, Webster refused medical aid until the more serious casualties in his unit were evacuated.
Webster was wounded again in the face in August at another location in Vietnam and eventually spent seven days in a hospital in Japan. He received Silver and Bronze Star awards for his actions.
The Army said Webster's heroism contributed immeasurably to the success of the mission and to the defeat of the enemy. The service said Webster's bravery and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of military service.
The Purple Heart is a U.S. military decoration awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving with the U.S. military on or after April 5, 1917.
“They wanted to give me MedEvac [to go] back, and I refused it, based on the fact that I wanted to get all my wounded down. For that reason, I got the award,” Webster said.
The National Purple Heart Hall of Honor is a New York State Parks site under the jurisdiction of the Palisades Interstate Park Commission. It works closely with many different organizations and entities but is not directly affiliated with nor governed by the federal government, the military, or any other organizations.
The hall’s mission is to collect, preserve, and share the stories of all Purple Heart recipients.
Webster said he and his wife are planning a trip to the hall on April 19.
Webster retired from the military after 27 years of service. He spent his final year in the service on loan from the Army to run the ROTC program at the University of Central Arkansas in Conway.
“It makes me so proud. History is still reaching out 40 years, 50 years later,” Webster said of his military service. “You leave with great pride.”
Webster said he volunteered to go to Vietnam.
“I didn't have to go, but I was teaching combat tactics so I could get that experience because I felt out of place teaching combat,” he said. “So that was something I hadn’t experienced, and you had to realize you could die.”
He said he’s taught many classes after his military life, and he said he tells everyone this: “The three philosophies I asked everybody to remember is God [first], family second, and work is third, and all of us hold on to that.”
Following his retirement from the military, Webster worked for Kimberly-Clark Corp. in Conway before retiring from that company. In Arkansas, Webster met a fellow volunteer at the Conway Optimist Club — Frank Gutterman — who was Catholic and helped direct him into the Church.
Gutterman wanted Webster’s talents to benefit the Catholic faith, “so I had to go to RCIA at St. Joseph [Catholic Church] in Conway.”
A native of Tennessee, Webster moved to Fort Worth in 2001 and said he worked for a center that helped people with addiction issues.
Webster joined the Knights of Columbus and, together with comedian Jerry Lewis’ son Chris, he worked on a Knights of Columbus program that provided wheelchairs for people who need but cannot afford them.
“I worked on the wheelchair program for over 14 years” in Fort Worth, Webster said.
At St. Rita, Webster is known for his good nature and his booming voice, fellow usher Dino Ferralli said.
Ferralli said Webster greets parishioners with a big smile when he opens the door for them to enter the church.
“You know, he's just full of real love for people,” Ferralli said. “He just makes people feel good coming through the door.”
Ferralli said that Webster’s presence is always known.
“Even praying in the church, he booms out prayers from the back of the church,” he said. “And I mean, it covers the whole church. He’s just full of happiness when he's in the church.”
Beyond his jovial nature, Webster is always on guard to ensure no disruptions happen.
“He's kind of a protector in the church,” Ferralli said. “He's always got his eyes open making sure everything goes smoothly.”