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62 years later, Mitchell is awarded Bronze Star

July 13, 2006|by MARLO BARNHART

HANCOCK - Taking shelter in a bomb crater, Wilbur Mitchell said he and his buddies were ducking grenades and machine gun fire in the Huertgen Forest in Germany in the fall of 1944.

"When we looked out, all the bushes were moving," Mitchell said, recalling the frightening time in his life nearly 62 years ago.

Mitchell, now 83, said the Germans hollered at them to give up, and he vowed he wasn't going to give up.

"I crowed like a rooster," Mitchell said, a noise that made one of the Germans stick his head out, and he killed him - a memory that still moves him after all those years.

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The very next day - Nov. 19, 1944 - Mitchell was wounded by shrapnel from rocket blasts that killed eight of his fellow soldiers.

Mitchell, who said he just wanted to get a bandage on his shoulder and return to combat, instead was hospitalized - first in England, then back in the U.S.

The war was over for Wilbur Mitchell.

For his service in the U.S. Army, Mitchell was awarded the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge shortly after the war ended. But it took 62 years for him to finally receive his Bronze Star.

Presenting the award in ceremonies June 26 in Hancock was retired Sgt. Carl Lenhart, commandant of the Bulldog Detachment of the Marine Corps League in Hagerstown, and veteran of three tours in Vietnam.

Vernard Brintzenhofe, a Marine during World War II, also presented Mitchell with a life membership to the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

"I was drafted in 1943," Mitchell said. "I was working then for a Ford dealer in Hancock."

With the war already into its second year, Mitchell said he didn't think he would have to go, but then he got his "greetings" from the U.S. Army.

"We trained in Texas - never been there before, and it was hot doing maneuvers out in the desert," Mitchell said.

He stayed in the U.S. until D-Day, when he was sent first to England, then to France in the infantry.

After his injury, Mitchell was operated on in England, then came back to the U.S., first to a hospital in Virginia and then at the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Martinsburg, W.Va., where he spent about six months recuperating.

Born and raised in Hancock, Mitchell had married Wilma Grove in 1942.

"It was love at first sight," Mitchell said.

When Mitchell finally returned to Hancock in 1945, he took the $100 he received for mustering out of the service and bought two lots just east of town. There, he built the home he has shared with his wife since his return from the war.

He first went back to work for the Ford dealer, but later had a service station in Hancock. In 1991, Mitchell retired after 40 years operating a school bus.

"It's hard to think about the war," Mitchell said.

The Bronze Star quest was begun by Mitchell's daughter, who contacted military personnel in Missouri. The Marine Corps League also was approached so a combat veteran could be the one to give Mitchell his medal.

"It was a surprise," Mitchell said of the ceremony.

The Mitchells have a son, Stanley, and a daughter, Shirley Funk.

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