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Sen. Mullin and the Vanover family pose with the Purple Heart Medal.

OSU hosts Purple Heart Medal ceremony for Cpl. Elmer Vanover

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

Media Contact: Page Mindedahl | Communications Specialist | 405-744-9782 |

U.S. Sen. Mullin presents posthumous medal to WWII veteran’s family

Oklahoma State University held a ceremony on Tuesday to posthumously honor U.S. Army Cpl. Elmer Vanover with the Purple Heart Medal and Combat Infantryman Badge.

U.S. Sen. Markwayne Mullin presented the medal to Vanover’s family. Vanover served in the 200th Coastal Artillery during World War II. 

Vanover was awarded the Purple Heart Medal for the injuries he sustained after being taken prisoner on the Philippine island of Luzon on April 9, 1942. He not only survived the Bataan Death March, a nine-day march that led to the deaths of an estimated 5,500 to 18,650 American and Filipino soldiers, but also survived another three years and four months as a prisoner of war until he was released in August 1945.

Cpl. Vanover next to his car
Cpl. Vanover poses next to his car in his uniform.

When he moved back to Vinita, Oklahoma, after the war, Vanover’s injuries had left him more than 70% disabled, yet he continued to work for the Oklahoma Turnpike Authority until he retired. He was a beloved Oklahoman, state employee, husband and father. 

In Vinita, you can find a dedicated portion of U.S. Route 66 to Vanover. The sign reads “Bataan Death March Survivor Elmer ‘Red’ Vanover Memorial Highway.”

Vanover’s son, Tim, has spent 10 years attempting to obtain the Purple Heart for his father after he passed away in 1990. 

In attendance was OSU/A&M Board of Regents Chairman-Elect Jimmy Harrell, a friend of the Vanover family. 

“I am pleased to honor such an extraordinary man and his family on OSU’s campus today,” Harrell said. “The sacrifices Cpl. Vanover and his family have made cannot be overstated, and we are privileged to be a part of this momentous occasion and show support for our veterans and their families.”

The ceremony began with Vanover’s great-granddaughter, Elise Vanover, performing the National Anthem for attendees. 

Mullin spoke about the importance of honoring veterans and acknowledged Vanover's sacrifice during his time in the Army.

“This is somebody that truly defines the greatest generation, someone that came back and built this country after fighting for it,” Mullin said.

After Mullin spoke, Tim Vanover accepted the medal on behalf of his father and said a few words about what acquiring this medal meant to their family. 

“It’s all emotional. It's hard to talk about my dad and not be emotional,” Tim said. “I do appreciate Oklahoma State University, the best university in the state, for letting us hold this meeting here … We want to thank you all for making this a very memorable day for us. After 82 years, everything has come full circle. I know Dad's resting in peace, but now I can rest in peace, too.”

OSU became Oklahoma’s first Purple Heart University in 2016 and the 25th university nationally to be honored with the distinction. A Purple Heart University is an academic institution recognized by the Military Order of the Purple Heart for its support of military-affiliated populations.

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