KEMPER HALL OF FAME

Colonel Ben Purcell

Ben Purcell was born in 1928 in Banks County, Georgia. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy on January 22, 1946, and served until February 28, 1948. Purcell was commissioned in the U.S. Army Infantry through the Army ROTC program at North Georgia College on March 15, 1950. After serving at Fort Riley, Kansas, and Fort Jackson, South Carolina, Lt Purcell was assigned as Aide-de-Camp to the Commanding General of X Corps and then the 2nd Infantry Division during the Korean War.

After the war, Purcell served at Fort Benning, Georgia, Fort McClellan, Alabama, in Europe, at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, and as the Professor of Military Science at Kemper Military School in Boonville, Missouri. He was assigned to the Republic of Vietnam in August 1967 and on February 8, 1968, the helicopter Col Purcell was riding as a passenger in was shot down and he was taken as a Prisoner of War by the Viet Cong in South Vietnam.

Colonel Purcell was immediately moved to Laos and then into the North Vietnamese prison system. As the highest ranking Army POW, Colonel Purcell spent most of his captivity in solitary confinement. After spending 1,874 days in captivity, Colonel Purcell was released during Operation Homecoming on March 27, 1973, having given up his previous release date of March 16 to Air Force Colonel Ted Guy (a Hall of Fame Kemper Old Boy).

After hospitalization, he became a student at the Army War College from August 1973 to June 1974, and served as an instructor there from June 1974 to February 1976. He next served at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, as Commander of the 3rd Basic Combat Training Brigade from February 1976 to August 1977. Colonel Purcell's final assignment was as Professor of Military Science at the Army ROTC program at North Georgia College from August 1977 until his retirement from the Army on August 31, 1980. Ben Purcell married the former Anne Grant of Baldwin, Georgia, on January 20, 1951, and they have five children-David, Debbie, Cliff, Sherri, and Joy.