Sunday, May 4, 2003

Purple Heart long overdue


WWII vet receives it Saturday

By Maggie Downs
The Cincinnati Enquirer

With congratulations and a handshake Saturday, Pfc. Albert J. Weeks (Ret.) received a long-overdue honor.

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Albert J. Weeks, a WWII veteran, receives the Purple Heart Saturday from Maj. Markus Hartmann.
(Tony Jones photo)
| ZOOM |
The arms of the Mount Healthy man bear the scars from a grenade tossed his way during World War II. Now he proudly bears the Purple Heart medal, awarded to wounded combat veterans.

"This is more than we ever dreamed of," said his wife, Luella, dabbing her eyes with a folded tissue. "This brings back so many memories."

Sept. 17, 1944, was a pitch-black night on the island of Peleliu, where Weeks was a rifle team leader. He warned his Browning Automatic Rifleman, a fellow they called "Butterball," against firing his weapon. When Butterball did anyway, a Japanese hand grenade was thrown over a ridge into their position.

Butterball received serious injuries. Weeks received shrapnel.

After helping his fellow Marine to the sick bay, Weeks was also treated and evacuated.

"It's probably the luckiest thing that ever happened to me," he said. "If I hadn't, who knows if I would be here today?"

To commemorate his actions, the medal was presented to Weeks during a ceremony Saturday at the Communications Company, Fourth Marines Division in Walnut Hills. "This recognition is long overdue," said Maj. Markus Hartmann, site commander, pinning the medal onto Weeks' jacket.

Weeks previously had a Purple Heart in his possession. But the medal was stashed inside a duffel bag, along with clothing and other medals, when Weeks was being shipped home. All of those belongings were lost in transit.

"I thought that would be the safest place for it," he said. "I was wrong."

His niece, Sandra Thomas of Bakersfield, Calif., spent the last two years secretly tracking down another one.

Thomas grew up hearing her father and her uncle swap stories about the war. After her father passed away, Thomas realized how much she wanted her "Uncle Al" to have his medal while he was still living.

"I just had to see if I could do this for him," she said. "I know he's a very prideful person. He would never ask for it.

"And now, I think he's happy."

E-mail mdowns@enquirer.com




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