‘It’s wonderful’: Woman surprised with Purple Heart for late husband on her birthday

‘It’s wonderful’: Woman surprised with Purple Heart for late husband on her birthday
Published: May. 20, 2023 at 9:41 PM CDT|Updated: May. 20, 2023 at 11:00 PM CDT
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EVANSVILLE, Ind. (WFIE) - A woman’s birthday celebration took a different turn when she was surprised with a Purple Heart for her late husband.

Janice Batson arrived at Pie Pan on Saturday afternoon thinking she was only going to just be celebrating her 75th birthday, but little did she know, she had a birthday surprise that she wasn’t expecting.

Batson had made the trip from Florida to Evansville to celebrate her birthday with friends and family.

“I’m so surprised, I didn’t expect it at all,” Batson said. “It’s wonderful.”

Batson was married to her high school sweetheart, Harold Henesy, before Henesy was sent to fight in the Vietnam War. Harold would never make it home, Janice says.

He and his fellow soldiers would be ambushed in May of 1968. Henesy was only 18 years old.

55 years following his death, Janice would receive the surprise of a lifetime.

When Henesy died, Batson kept the medals he had earned, and his casket flag from his funeral. She wouldn’t keep these things however, she would end up giving them to Henesy’s half-brother, who she connected with years after.

“He [Henesy’s half-borther] was saying that he wished he could have gotten to know him,” Batson said. “So I felt at the time that he had deserved it.”

One of those medals she had given away was Henesy’s Purple Heart.

“Giving something away that means the world to you, I mean that’s such a huge generous act,” said Batson’s daughter, Shannon Ulewicz.

Decades later, she would get back a piece of what she selflessly gave up.

“Seeing her, seeing how she reacted, I think it really hit home as to how important it was to her,” Ulewicz said.

Batson was overcome with emotion as Major Joshua Lyons from the U.S. Army presented her with another Purple Heart. Honoring not just Henesy’s sacrifice, but also her own.

“Even though I have remarried he will always be in my heart,” Batson said. “He’s number one.”

Major Lyons says the ceremony recognizes not just the soldier, but also the families that make the ultimate sacrifice.

“50 years removed, 60 years removed, we’re still there, we’re still providing that dignity and respect that’s due to the families of those soldiers,” Lyons said.

It was a reunion of the highest regard for the two high school sweethearts.

“I have a place I want to keep it, yes,” Batson said. “And it will be there.”

Ulewicz says she found out the Army could issue another Purple Heart years ago on a family visit to Ohio.

She got the call six weeks before her mother’s birthday, and when she asked if the Army could send someone to present it on her birthday, they agreed to have someone to present the medal.

Batson has been a customer at Pie Pan for the last 25 years.