Friday, August 8, 2003

They put their lives at risk; nation pauses to say 'Thanks'

By Rebecca Goodman
The Cincinnati Enquirer

[IMAGE] World War II veteran and Purple Heart medal holder Dick Kutchera, 79, salutes during ceremonies on Fountain Square Thursday.
(Gary Landers photo)
| ZOOM |
Dozens of military veterans sporting purple ties and caps thronged Fountain Square on Thursday as the city recognized their service on Purple Heart Day in Cincinnati.

Among them was Dick Kutchera, a World War II veteran who sported his two Purple Hearts on his shirt pocket. The Forest Park resident, who said he is "59 plus 20" was a private with the 100th Marine Infantry Division during World War II. He was a machine gunner in France and Germany.

Kutchera calls himself one of the "Sons of Bitche" who tore through the thickly entrenched Germans in the Vosges Mountains in northeast France to take the town of Bitche in early 1945.

But he was taken out of commission before then when he took artillery fire in the back on Dec. 7, 1944. He was returned to battle three months later and hit again - this time in the leg - on April 18 in Billstein, Germany. "We really got clobbered," he said.

Kutchera beamed with pride as he spoke of his war experiences Thursday.

While not an official holiday, Aug. 7 has long been observed as Purple Heart Day by veterans. "A lot don't even know about Purple Heart Day," Kutchera said. "This is a way of letting people know. Hopefully we'll have more Purple Heart Days."

Ceremonies honored eight war veterans, including Marine Lance Cpl. Michael Jones.

The 19-year-old Hebron resident is home recuperating after being hit in the leg by a rocket-propelled grenade while fighting with the 1st Marine Division outside of Baghdad barely six weeks ago.

Although he lost a chunk of his leg and sustained nerve damage, Jones was able to walk across the stage unassisted. He has already received his Purple Heart and been nominated for a Bronze Star.

With a little push from local veterans' groups and Fifth Third Bank, the mayor's office proclaimed Aug. 7, 2003, Purple Heart Day in Cincinnati.

Honored with Jones were seven other Purple Heart recipients: Tom Griffin, Army Air Corps, World War II; Walter Foster, Navy, World War II and Korea; Ken Glass, Navy, World War II; Howard Osterkamp, Army, Korea; Russell Carlson, 1st Marine Division, Korea; Homer Smith, Army, Korea; and Dean Smittle, Air Force, Vietnam and Desert Storm.

A representative of the U.S. Postal Service presented each of them with framed enlarged replicas of the Purple Heart stamp, released last spring.


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