ETTRICK, Wis. - More than 70 years after his heroic actions, World War II veteran Cpl. Clifford P. Blaha was awarded the Bronze Star Medal during a surprise ceremony held by the American Legion in Ettrick, Wisconsin, March 21, 2015.
Attending the ceremony were family, friends and members of the local community. Also attending were Soldiers of the 88th Regional Support Command, headquartered on Fort McCoy, who volunteered their afternoon for the opportunity to properly honor a patriot of what's been titled the “Greatest Generation.”
Maj. Gen. Karen LeDoux, commander of the 88th RSC, officiated the ceremony and said she was tremendously honored to present Blaha the Bronze Star Medal.
World War II veteran Clifford P. Blaha stands beside Maj. Gen. Karen LeDoux, commander of the 88th Regional Support Command, after being presented the Bronze Star Medal during a ceremony in Ettrick, Wis., March 21, 2015. Blaha is a veteran of operations in Leyte, Philippines and the Battle of Okinawa. He is a recipient of two Purple Hearts, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Medal, the World War II Victory Medal and the Combat Infantry Badge. (U.S. Army photo by SFC Corey Beal)
“Mr. Blaha's example serves as a reminder to us all of the tremendous heroism and selfless service of the 16 million Americans who served in WWII,” said LeDoux. “Ceremonies like these are long overdue, but fortunately for us they bring back to memory stories of a generation which must not be forgotten.”
Helping bring to light Blaha's story was Paul Beseler, American Legion Vice Commander of Wisconsin's 10th District. Beseler had been working behind the scenes to get Blaha his overdue award and orchestrated the ceremony all without Blaha's knowledge.
“Mr. Blaha is a recipient of two purple hearts, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Medal, the WWll Victory Medal, and the Combat Infantryman Badge,” said Beseler. “He is eligible for the Bronze Star having been awarded the CIB by virtue of Executive Order 9419.”
“The criteria for the CIB at the time Mr. Blaha received it would ultimately be the same criteria for the Bronze Star when it was initially released as an award,” continued Beseler. “In 1947 a policy was implemented that authorized the retroactive awarding of the Bronze Star Medal to all Soldiers who received the Combat Infantryman Badge during WWI.”
During the ceremony Beseler read Blaha's biography to the audience which began with his draft into the Army following High School on July 28, 1944. He then received Basic Training at what was then Camp Hood, which was not quite two years old and housed approximately 30,000 replacement troops.
Blaha was then assigned to the 7th Infantry Division and left Seattle aboard the USS Lycoming to Hawaii where they staged for Leyte, Philippines, They arrived in Leyte for operations there and then departed to be on station for the Battle of Okinawa.
They secured the Kadena Air Base with little resistance, cut across the island and headed south where fighting was more intense and a number of casualties occurred.
During his Division's 82 days of continuous combat there, Blaha was wounded on two separate occasions. He was shot once through the arm, and then on the final day, was shot across the back.
His unit then deployed to occupy Korea and accepted the surrender of Japanese forces which had occupied that country. They then returned to the continental United States and Mr. Blaha was discharged at Camp McCoy, Wisconsin.
“Mr. Blaha's service to our Nation holds just as much importance today as it did 70 years ago when he bore the hardships of war,” said LeDoux. “As his generation passes we must remind ourselves and teach our youth the heroism and sacrifices which were endured for future generations.”
The time to recognize and honor that generation is quickly closing according to estimates by the Department of Veterans Affairs. Of the 16.1 million veterans who served in WWII, 855,000 are still living today and are passing away at a rate of 492 a day.
“This ceremony serves not only as tribute Mr. Blaha's heroism, but to all WWII veterans who endured countless sacrifices for our country and ensured our way of life,” said LeDoux. “We owe them a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid, and we must not allow their selfless service to be forgotten with the passing of time.”
By U.S. Army SFC Corey Beal
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article