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Veteran Receives Long Overdue Purple Heart at Surprise EAA Ceremony
September 25, 2014 - Seventy years ago this month, Fred Zurbuchen, of Waupun, Wisconsin, was wounded by anti-aircraft flak during a World War II bombing mission over Dusseldorf, Germany. The B-17 ball turret gunner was a staff sergeant with the 493rd Bomb Group. Despite his combat injury he never received his Purple Heart because his mission paperwork was destroyed in a fire. When Chris Henry, EAA membership services representative, became aware of this in April, he set out on his own mission to correct it.
Last Thursday afternoon, September 18, EAA had the privilege of hosting a surprise medal presentation in the EAA AirVenture Museum’s Eagle Hangar as Zurbuchen, with his family in attendance, received his Purple Heart. Henry coordinated the event, getting Zurbuchen to the museum with a ruse about seeing a new ball turret display.
Former EAA staff member Lt. Brandon Scott, who is serving with the Wisconsin Army National Guard, appeared in full dress uniform and made the presentation to the surprised WWII veteran.
“On behalf of Army aviators past, present, and future, allow me to extend my most heartfelt thank you for the inspiration you’ve given us all for your acts of valor and bravery,” he said while presenting the medal.
Henry learned about Zurbuchen’s situation during EAA’s special B-17 crew flight on April 14, which Zurbuchen participated in.
“When I heard that he never received his medal, it really motivated me to do what I could to help make things right,” Henry said. “We owe World War II veterans so much more than we can ever repay them.”
With the help of Zurbuchen’s family, Henry collected all of records and assorted paperwork, including affidavits from three fellow crew members about the combat injury, which occurred on September 9, 1944. Those affidavits were the key, Henry said, since Zurbuchen is the crew’s sole survivor.
“I don’t think this would have been possible without the affidavits,” Henry said. “And it usually takes a year for such requests to go through. But we were able to get it all done in about five months.”
Final approval for Zurbuchen’s Purple Heart was received the first week of April.
“I can’t say the right words,” said an emotional Zurbuchen after receiving his medal. “It’s unbelievable to think that I got the medal finally. I tried everything possible to get it, never succeeded.”
Zurbuchen, who enlisted at age 17, flew a total of 25 missions and is credited with shooting down two enemy aircraft. He was wounded on the 10th mission, but was back in the ball turret two weeks later.