STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:
A ceremony comes at Fort Hood in Texas today - 47 individuals receive a Purple Heart or the Defense of Freedom Medal given to civilians. The recipients were victims of the 2009 massacre at Fort Hood. The attack by then Army Major Nidal Hasan killed 13 people and wounded many more. For the medals to be awarded, Congress had to change a long-standing military statute. NPR's Wade Goodwyn reports.
WADE GOODWYN, BYLINE: When Captain Dorothy Carskadon first heard the gunfire and saw her unit begin to fall to the floor of the Soldier Readiness Center, she thought it was a surprise training excise. The captain dropped to the floor and crawled over to Private Francheska Velez, who was clutching her stomach and screaming my baby, my baby. Hasan had shot the pregnant soldier right through her abdomen.
CAPTAIN DOROTHY CARSKADON: Unfortunately, she did die and her baby to die. I didn't know her before that because she was coming home from Iraq due to the pregnancy.
GOODWYN: Driving to Fort Hood yesterday afternoon on her way to the Purple Heart ceremony, Carskadon says she's lucky to be alive. After comforting Private Velez, the captain unwisely tried to stand up and was shot by Hasan multiple times in the stomach, in the right hip and her right leg. Another shot grazed the side of her head. As the carnage unfolded, it proved Fort Hood's finest hour. As she had done with Velez, other soldiers ran into the line of fire to rescue the wounded captain.
CARSKADON: And I was assisted over to a hallway where my commander found me and assisted me in getting outside of the building.
GOODWYN: Far from the battlefields of Iraq and Afghanistan, the Army initially classified the attack as workplace violence. Had Hasan been a foreign agent, it wouldn't have been an issue. The assault would've been ruled a terrorist attack. But Hasan was one of our own officers. Fort Hood's Congressman John Carter led the political fight to rewrite the law so that Hasan's victims could receive the Purple Heart. It's not just about the hardware. The award brings with it significantly enhanced medical and other military benefits.
REPRESENTATIVE JOHN CARTER: They had to change the law by redefining what a terrorist act is - slightly, very slightly.
GOODWYN: Under the new law, the military can award a Purple Heart if the attacker was in communication with foreign terrorists who in turn inspired the attack. For Captain Dorothy Carskadon, today she'll remember not the shooter, but the brave soldiers and civilians who fought back, running together toward the sound of the gunfire.
CARSKADON: So I would prefer to focus on the heroics of the day. Every person in my unit who was not injured that day was asked if they would continue on to Afghanistan, and every single one of them said yes.
GOODWYN: The wounded soldiers and the families of the men and women killed in the attack will receive the Purple Heart. The wounded civilians and the families of those who died will receive its civilian counterpart - the Defense of Freedom Medal. Wade Goodwyn, NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.