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WWII vet gets Purple Heart, 55 years late

April 19, 2000|By KIMBERLY YAKOWSKI

Lying in knee-deep snow on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge, Pfc. Fred Wishard bled steadily from the deep shrapnel wound in his left leg.

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Pinned down by enemy fire, the 20-year-old Wishard lay in the bitter cold for 30 hours before being captured by German soldiers.

"It was so cold. I remember seeing my blood freeze in the snow," said Wishard, who served as in the Army's 194th Glider Infantry 17th Airborne Division during World War II.

He was shuttled from one prisoner-of-war hospital to another, losing all of the toes on his left foot and part of his left foot in the process. Wishard, who had been reported missing in action, was freed three months later by Allied troops.

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On Tuesday, 55 years after the 1945 ordeal, Wishard received the Purple Heart, the medal awarded to those wounded or killed in combat.

U.S. Rep. Roscoe Bartlett presented Wishard, 75, with a certificate and the long-awaited Purple Heart during a ceremony at his office in downtown Hagerstown Tuesday afternoon.

Bartlett praised Wishard for his service to the United States before pinning the heart-shaped medal with a purple ribbon on the veteran's chest.

Wishard's eyes filled with tears. "I think about the other guys who didn't make it," he said.

Wishard said he was discharged from the Army without decorations due to a records mix-up caused by his disappearance during the six-week battle in Belgium and Luxembourg near the end of the war.

"I didn't really think I'd get any medals and I didn't push it," he said.

Then, several years ago, a fellow veteran urged him to apply. He did, and eventually received a POW medal, a campaign medal and a good-conduct medal.

"They sent me all my medals but the Purple Heart, and that's a special medal," he said.

"For years I didn't really think about it," he said.

Wishard, on the advice of fellow veterans, pursued the matter and the award was finally authorized in January.

Wishard's situation was not uncommon, said Major Tim Blair of the U.S. Department of Defense Public Affairs Office.

He said poor record-keeping in the past was to blame for many such delayed awards.

At least six World War II veterans received Purple Hearts last year, many after appealing to their congressional representatives through a procedure established by Congress in 1996.

Despite the lingering pain in his left leg, Wishard said he considers himself lucky because he returned from the war when so many didn't. His faith in God and his family got him through the tough times, he said.

Along with his memories, Wishard has physical reminders of the war.

Part of his left foot and all the toes on his left foot were amputated as a result of his injuries and he said he is 30 percent disabled. "I filled my shoe up with aluminum" to make his feet appear the same size, he said.

A retired distributor for the Washington Post, Wishard recently returned to his hometown of Hagerstown after living in Florida for more than 10 years.

Wishard said he did not know how much the award meant to him until he received it. He said he was touched by the attention from Bartlett, the press and others who found out he was to receive the award.

"When the mailman thanked me (for serving in the war), I cried," said Wishard.

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