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Thanks to the National Guard; Purple Heart search 64 years laterPosted Friday, February 27, 2009, at 1:45 PM
It was a week of satisfaction and reflection.
Sunday afternoon, I was humbled and surprised to be recognized by Indiana National Guard Alpha Company, Task Force 1-151 -- The Avengers -- based in Linton for support and coverage of the local troops during their year-long mobilization, which included a nine-month combat tour of duty in Iraq.
I was indeed honored to be named the recipient of Distinguished Center of Influence (CIO) Award presented to an individual or organization which the unit felt was most helpful to its soldiers and their families during mobilization.
I was also named an honorary member of the Avengers.
I'm not sure exactly what that entails, but I joked with unit commander First Lt. Andrew Wood that I hoped I would not be required to undergo the regular PT (physical training) that the rest of the much younger troops have to do.
He assured me they could probably give me a "waiver" on that and my overweight and under-used body does appreciate that consideration.
On a more serious note, no words can sufficiently express what I am feeling.
I am deeply grateful for the award and accept it with a very humble heart. I have received numerous other professional awards in my newspaper career, but I can tell you this one stands at the top. It will be something I will always cherish.
The real heroes here are the National Guardsmen -- our brave citizen soldiers, who gave up a year of their lives to help defend the many freedoms we take for granted.
We can never tell them "thank you" enough for what they have done for each one of us. We owe them a level of gratitude that can never be repaid.
They volunteered for military service and there is no greater thing that anyone could do in the name of patriotism.
Kudos to every member of the unit.
Every Guardsman did their job, completed the mission and everyone came home.
Special congratulations are in order for the nine members of the unit who received Purple Hearts: Spec. Christopher Aydt, Spec. Aaron Barbarick, Spec. C.C. Raley, Spec. David Clark, Spec. Scott Arnold, Spec. Sean Pemberton, Spec. Ricky Raley, Staff Sgt. Robert Wininger and Sgt. Patrick Clouse.
Speaking of Purple Hearts, Sunday afternoon was a time of personal reflection for me.
As the names of these brave Guardsmen were being read, my thoughts turned to my dad. It's kind of a difficult and emotional story to relate, but I will try.
My dad, who died of a heart attack when I was 5-years-old in 1958, was a Purple Heart recipient.
He served in the U.S. Army in New Guinea and the Philippines during World War II -- under the command of the famed General Douglas McArthur.
I never really knew my dad, but I was told he was in a heated combat battle with Japanese aggressors and took metal from a hand grenade in his back and leg. My mom told me how he suffered when he came back to the states -- laying awake at night in pain for years.
My mother, who passed away about two decades ago, told me many times that my dad had earned a Purple Heart for his war efforts.
I know that to be factual because I received some financial aid during my college days in the early 1970s because of his Purple Heart distinction.
However, strangely enough my dad was never formally presented with an actual medal.
I don't really know the reason why.
I was told that my mother checked into it in the mid-1970s and found out that my dad's military records were destroyed in a fire at the National Personnel Records Center (NPRC) in St. Louis, Mo. on July 12, 1973. The fire destroyed about 80 percent of the records for Army personnel discharged between Nov. 1, 1912, and Jan. 1, 1960.
My dad was discharged in early 1945.
Growing up my dad was my hero. There was a mysterious admiration for this man -- even though the only thing I really remember about him is what other people have told me.
I remember going into a closet and looking at his old Army uniform -- neatly hung in the closet with his combat service medals still attached.
I remember admiring a vintage Japanese bolt-action rifle that he brought back from the war. I showed it to my friends and was proud to tell them my dad had confiscated it in "the war."
Seeing the presentation Sunday really made me think a a lot about my dad and the service to his nation.
I know it's a long shot after all of these years, but I plan to check into the matter further and see if I can find out for sure if my dad is still owed his Purple Heart medal.
If he is, then I would like very much for the late Staff Sgt. Francis Nicholas Schneider to have his day, get his medal and receive a proper salute from his country -- albeit 64 years late.
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