Family of WWII veteran receives Purple Heart more than 73 years after war

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. - A family gathered together Friday afternoon to see their loved one get his final military recognition. The widow of Earl Eberle, who passed away in 2010, received a Purple Heart for Earl being wounded in the war.

The medal was pinned to Marjorie Eberle, who was married to Earl for 65 years, by U.S. Senator Todd Young.

“He would be very proud because we had worked for such a long time," Marjorie said.

According to the couple's children, Earl didn't speak much about the war.

That changed in the late 1990s, after Earl watched the film, "Saving Private Ryan." That's when the children learned more about their father's time in the military.

Earl was recognized with two Bronze Stars, a Prisoner of War medal after being captured for roughly five months near the back end of the war, combat ribbons, oak-leaf clusters.

During the war, Earl was also shot with a wooden bullet, getting struck in his jaw.

“The purpose of it was not to kill the American solider but to wound him," said Frank Eberle, the oldest son of the family. "If they could wound him, then it would take one, two or three of the combat infantrymen to take care of him. That was the rationale behind it."

Doctors at war with Earl said the bullet could stay there and be addressed when Earl had more serious injuries. That would never come, though.

Years later, other doctors decided removing the wood would due more damage, and leave scars worse, so the bullet stayed with Earl until he died.

It should have been rather clear Earl was due a Purple Heart, but his military records didn't exist.

“His military records were in the federal building in St. Louis and there was a fire," said Frank. "All the records were destroyed."

According to the National Archives government website, a fire broke out on July 12, 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center, which destroyed 16 to 18 million military personnel files.

For the past 20 years, Frank and other family members and friends, worked to get the final honor.

"It was getting to the point where I was ready to write a letter to the president," said Frank.

The work finally paid off Friday at American Legion Post #18 in Bloomington.

“Its represents and I think completes the circle of who we knew our dad to be," said Margie Eberle-Polley, the fifth oldest of the seven children.

Earl's story in the war is a part of the Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center in the Library of Congress. The project keeps track of personal accounts of American war veterans to allow future generations better understand the realities of war by directly hearing from the men and women who served.

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