An Army veteran says the USO's use of the Purple Heart image in its fundraising campaign creates a misleading impression about the award given to service members wounded in combat.
The USO's fundraising materials sent in April included personalized return address labels featuring an image of the Purple Heart next to the veteran's name and address.
"It makes it appear that I have a Purple Heart medal. I DO NOT have one!" wrote Robert W. Tucker Jr., a disabled veteran who served in the Army for 12 years and left as a staff sergeant in 1994, in a complaint to the USO.
The USO, he said, "is sending these stickers to millions of people across the USA for the purpose of a fundraiser ... insulting all branches of our military and tarnishing the honor of receiving this medal/award."
The letter in the fundraising mailer was signed by USO president and CEO J.D. Crouch II.
Tucker's was the only complaint received by the USO, and the group plans to mail the labels again next year, said spokeswoman Gayle Fishel.
"This is the third year in a row that we have included the Purple Heart labels in our renewal mailing," Fishel said. "We have only received one complaint about the mailer and therefore we are currently tracking to mail these labels again next year in April 2016."
The USO's director of fundraising tried to call Tucker, and left a voice mail, in response to a complaint he lodged with the office of Rep. Elizabeth Etsy, D-Conn., Fishel said.
"[Tucker] asked that the congresswoman ask the USO to stop printing this set of return address labels due to the implied connection to the Purple Heart," Etsy's aide wrote in an email to USO, according to Fishel.
"I am not here to do that. I am here to just relay his concerns and let you know that it was brought to her attention by a well-meaning veteran that holds the Purple Heart Medal in high regard," the aide wrote.
Tucker said he has sent two registered letters to Crouch that went unanswered. Fishel said Crouch has not received any letters pertaining to the mailer.
The Purple Heart labels were among a variety of images used in the USO mailer, including flags, USO symbols and the Statue of Liberty.
The USO labels used the image of the Purple Heart medal, but not the words "Purple Heart." The Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation owns the copyright to the use of the words "Purple Heart" for fundraising purposes, said John Bircher, spokesman for the Military Order of the Purple Heart, a congressionally chartered veterans service organization.
The Military Order of the Purple Heart has permission from the Army Institute of Heraldry to use the medal image in multiple ways, to include signs in each state marking the Purple Heart Trail, Bircher said. About 45,000 Purple Heart recipients are members of the organization.
The image of the medal is in the public domain and is used in a variety of places, to include a Purple Heart postage stamp. Information was not immediately available from defense officials about restrictions on use of the image. But Bircher said he was not aware of objections to the use of the image unless it was used in a derogatory or demeaning manner.
When the Military Order of the Purple Heart Service Foundation sends a fundraising mailing using personalized address labels, only Purple Heart recipients get labels with the medal image, he said.
The fundraising letter from USO states: "With the war and its consequences so rarely mentioned on our front pages and nightly newscasts, many of these wounded warriors fear they have been forgotten. Fortunately, they know the USO has not forgotten, and that we'll be there with them for as long as it takes. However, without loyal donors like you ... the USO may not be able to '"be there with them'" — to deliver the special services so urgently needed by our wounded heroes."
Fishel said the USO "puts an enormous amount of thought into the items we send our supporters and as well as those we hope [will] become supporters."
"We like hearing from the public ... it's important and necessary feedback," she said. "While we are not always capable of responding to all comments and questions about our outreach and fundraising strategies, we try to take special effort when those looking for answers are those who've served in uniform like Mr. Tucker.
"We respect his opinion."