World War II veteran awarded war medals after nearly 70 years

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Lakewood, Colo.- , August 3, 2016 | comments

Nearly 70 years since his time as a soldier, World War II veteran Oscar Reiss on Wednesday was finally awarded his distinguished war medals, five of which he didn’t know he earned until earlier this year.

The 95-year-old Reiss filed a request with U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter’s office in April, asking a formal ceremony for the Silver Star and Purple Heart medals he earned in World War II but was never formally presented. While processing those honors, it was discovered Reiss was due five additional medals from his service unbeknownst to him.

The German-born Reiss moved to New York City in 1937 but was initially denied enlistment because he was not a U.S. citizen. However, he was drafted into the Army in 1944 and attended basic training, during which he was awarded citizenship.

“I remember the colonel called me into his office and asked, ‘Do you know anything about the Constitution?’ And I pulled out and read my little constitution book like I saw on TV and said, ‘Yes, I’ve read it,’ ” Reiss said during Wednesday’s ceremony. “And he just looked at me and said, ‘Then you’re a citizen.’ ”

Soon after, Reiss was sent to France during the Battle of the Bulge and later was awarded the Silver Star, the third-highest military decoration for valor awarded in the U.S. Armed Forces.

Days later, Reiss was severely wounded by shrapnel and taken to a hospital in Belgium and awarded the Purple Heart, the oldest military award given to those wounded or killed while serving. 

Reiss, who now lives in Lakewood, recalled the pack radio he was carrying when was injured and said it took the majority of the shrapnel, ultimately saving his life.

“The army’s concept of soldiers for life couldn’t be better represented than when you look around this room,” said Lt. Col. William Adams, noting the newly enlisted soldiers who were mixed in with the crowd of World War II veterans at Wednesday’s ceremony. “We are this way because of men like this — it’s a testament to the tenacity and heroism of our greatest generation. Once a soldier, always a soldier, and you still carry that rank today, sir.”

Longtime friend Patrick Meyers said though he’s surprised Reiss hadn’t received his medals for so long, he believes the timing could be used to address some of the national discourse surrounding immigration.

“In an age where we’re having this debate about immigration, here’s someone who came from Germany and served our country heroically,” Meyers said.

Reiss on Wednesday was additionally awarded the Army Good Conduct Medal for soldiers who distinguish themselves among their fellow soldiers; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal recognizing service members who served in the European Theater during WWII; the Army of Occupation of Germany Medal recognizing those who served in the European occupation force after WWII; and the Honorable Service Lapel recognizing service members who were honorably discharged during WWII.

“Unfortunately you have so many medals, this is going to weigh pretty heavily on your jacket,” Adams said, pinning Reiss with the final award.

Perlmutter said Reiss had “an amazing life and terrible losses … but because of his courage and bravery, we’ve all been blessed and benefited as a country.”

Reiss said the ceremony felt “wonderful” after so many years but admits he “never made much of an effort” until this point this point to request a ceremony. The best part, he said, was enjoying it with his family and writing the memoirs he shared during his acceptance speech.

“I am so proud of my husband,” said his wife, Diane. “He just finished seven months of bladder cancer, he’s up to 15 minutes on the bike, five minutes on the rowing machine and he walks the dog every day around the park. This is a man.”

Content originally posted by The Denver Post on August 3rd, 2016.
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