On Veterans Day, American soldiers young and old are celebrated for their heroism and patriotism. But for veteran Aloysius Erker, this year's holiday holds special meaning. The nonagenarian has finally been awarded his military medals, 66 years after he was honorably discharged from the Army. Erker was discharged so quickly when World War II ended in 1945 that his medals were never presented to him, and the whole thing was forgotten for decades — until now. This story reminds you "exactly what Veterans Day is about," says Jeanne Sager at The Stir. A guide to Erker's "emotional" tale:
Who is this vet?
Aloysius "Al" Erker is 92. He lives with Gertrude, his wife of 70 years, in the Town of Boston near Buffalo, N.Y. They have three children, nine grandchildren, and 23 great-grandchildren.
Where did Erker serve?
Erker was drafted in March 1941, but it wasn't until after the Pearl Harbor attack on Dec. 7, 1941, that the soldier and his 36th Engineer Brigade shipped out. Erker fought in Morocco, Tunisia, Sicily, southern France, central Europe, and the Bavarian Alps (he recalls that Hitler's mountain retreat in Berghof, Obersalzberg was "strewn" with papers). Frequently bombarded, his brigade was always close to the front lines. But no matter where he was, Erker made sure to send a letter or a photograph to his young wife back in Buffalo. "I still have all his letters," Gertrude says.
How did he get out?
After Hitler's death in 1945, Erker was diagnosed with malaria and hospitalized in Europe. Once recovered, he was quickly discharged from the Army, shipping out on August 14, 1945, just days after the U.S. dropped atom bombs on Japan, ending the war globally.
Why is he only being honored now?
It's all thanks to Erker's grandsons, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Erker and U.S. Marine Corp Lt. Col. Kevin Erker. The pair found out that their veteran grandfather was entitled to three metals, and made sure he was properly honored. This year, Erker was presented with the American Defense Service Medal, European-Middle East-African Service Medals, and the Good Conduct Medal for his four years of combat. Erker's belated ceremony, and the attention he received from his hometown, proves that Americans "still hold dear the people who served even more than half a century ago," says Sager.