Monday, August 20, 2012

Birthday Recognition and Honoring Our Veterans

Today is my father-in-law’s 91st birthday. In recognition of that, I thought I’d step aside from my usual political and social commentary (at least for a few minutes) and highlight something special. If you visit to the Indiana War Memorial and tour the museum (and if you haven’t, you should), toward the end of the World War II exhibit, you’ll see a fairly new display.

photo 1

That’s my father-in-law. The display describes how he was awarded the Bronze Star for bravery in 1945 but didn’t learn about it or receive his medal until 2007. He doesn’t really like to talk about the events that led to the award. In fact, for a long time he was worried that if he talked about that day he’d get in trouble because, by taking the actions that he did, he’d actually disobeyed an order, though in doing so he was able to alert his unit to the location of German forces. For 60 years he worried about getting in trouble for doing something for which he was actually awarded a medal for bravery.

In case the text is too difficult to read:

Arthur Schiller was born in Elkhart, Indiana, and enlisted in the US Army on March 22, 1943, at the age of 21. Assigned to the 3rd Division, he departed for Europe on March 23, 1945, arriving on April 4. After fighting in North Africa, Sicily, and Italy, the 3rd had joined the invasion of France, smashed through the Siegfried Line, and crossed the Rhine into Germany itself just before Schiller arrived. In April, Schiller took part in the fighting as the 3rd took Nuremberg, Augsburg, and Munich in Bavaria, Germany, and was in the vicinity of Salzburg, Austria, when the war ended in May.

During the fighting in Southern Germany and Austria, Schiller earned the Bronze Star for bravery in combat. His most vivid memory of the war was of the day Germany surrendered, May 8, 1945. Schiller had taken off his helmet and put down his rifle to take a nap, but heard loud noises that sounded like bombs exploding. When he charged outside to investigate, he was met by another soldier who asked, “Hey Schiller, what the hell is wrong with you? The war is over.”

Schiller was discharged on April 11, 1946, and eager to put the war behind him, tucked away his discharge papers which listed the Bronze Star and other honors he earned during the war. He then pursued a career as a salesman, got married, had five children and three [now four] grandchildren, and eventually retired. Then, three years ago, he and his wife rediscovered the papers and noticed the Bronze Star which he had never received. With the help of Senator Richard Lugar, the 86 year old Hoosier her was finally awarded the Bronze Star he’d earned on the battlefields of Germany more than 60 years earlier, during a Veteran’s Day 2007 convocation at Carmel High School.

I want to mention one anecdote to go along with this story. At that 2007 convocation at Carmel High School where my father-in-law was formally awarded his Bronze Star, there were quite a few active duty service members present. The respect that they showed my father-in-law and the interest that they expressed in his experience was truly something to behold. I don’t know if they were all sincere (though I suspect that most were); but the appreciation and honor that they showed to my father-in-law made a memorable day that much more special for him. Those men and women are a true credit to our military, to themselves, and to our country. And watching that ceremony, watching my father-in-law receive his award, and watching the way those other soldiers reacted, was also a special moment for his grandchildren (my children) who were there to share the day with him.

There aren’t too many World War II veterans still with us; and too many of those who are suffer from ailments, both physical and mental. But they, like soldiers who’ve served after them, continue to deserve our appreciation and recognition. We must all remember to thank them for what they’ve done, what they’ve given of themselves, and the sacrifices that they’ve made.

Thanks, Art. Happy Birthday.

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