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Saturday afternoon, John Gualtier was escorted by two other Purple Heart recipients Dave Goodell and Michael Reid to the front of a room of more than 100 friends and family. The event was to honor him, albeit 75 years late, and to present him with his own Purple Heart.

A ceremony filled with the usual patriotic events, pledge of allegiance, Star-Spangled Banner, recognition from many who have crossed John's path, the event was emceed by Dale and Jeanette Henry.

There are few people that you meet in your lifetime that fit into the category of being legendary. John Gualtier is one of those people. For John, his service to his country covers an amount of time longer than most people are alive.

At 94 John has seen more, heard more and done more than most people. John Gualtier was born in Wellsville, Ohio at home, during the Calvin Coolidge Administration. Born in 1925 he was born into the home of a WW I veteran and joined a family that would all later become military veterans. John has one brother still living in California named Bud who is 97. Of the 7 siblings in his family 6 went into the military (one sibling died as a child).

Born during the Great Depression, his family paid $6.00 per month for rent. Eggs were 10 cents a dozen, a quart of milk or a loaf of bread cost 5 cents. The family received a $1,500 bonus In 1932 from the government, given to each WWII Veteran, which allowed the family to build a home of their own.

At age 17, in the midst of WWII, John asked his father for permission to enlist. Being a military man himself, his dad refused. As soon as John turned 18, he enlisted. On April 1st, 1944 he was inducted into the Army of The United States. November 4, 1945 he was honorably discharged to enlist in The Regular Army. John completed his 2nd Basic Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky. Then he went to Fort Campbell, Kentucky. After Basic Training, he was shipped out of Camp Kilmer in New Jersey, which was the largest processing center for troops heading overseas at the time. He was now a member of the 1st Division in Neurenberg, Germany.

John went by ship to England and then onto LeHavre, France where he was part of “Camp Old Gold” nicknamed after a brand of at cigarettes at the time. John was in the 371st Medical Battalion Company A, 71st Infantry Division. He was assigned to Iriage and also part of the Liberation of Gunskirchen Longer Concentration Camp which was a sub-camp of Maufhausen. His unit liberated another camp near Staubin, Germany that contained mostly Russian but also Negros, Jews and others.

In February of 1945 john was able to see the beach at Normandy many months after the invasion.

As just a kid, with very little medical training, he was charged with making decisions about who would live or die. Sent into the field armed with just his medical supplies which included 10 little bottles of morphine and his scissors for cutting bandages, he had no way to protect himself, he often felt like the red cross on his helmet and armband made him a target.

Working to save lives during the fighting and shelling was so intense that wounded soldiers couldn’t be reached. John ran from his cover six times to pull wounded soldiers to safety, then attended to their wounds and because of that, all six men survived. It was a nightmare every single day.

When he arrived at Nuremberg, Germany, the Allies were examing the cases of Nazis and deciding who would be executed or put in prison. John had enlisted to be a Medic for soldiers, but he found himself there treating soldiers who were guarding the war criminals.

He served for a total of 6 years, treating Americans and Germans alike. also serving during the Korean War Era, as part of the 101st Airborne at Camp Breckinridge. Kentucky.

50 years after the war, John was awarded the Bronze Star for his heroism in saving the 6 men he pulled from the field. Being awarded to him by a two star General following the efforts of Vietnam Veterans to fill out the qualifying documentation. (The Bronze Star Medal is a United States decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.)

75 years later he finally received his well deserved Purple Heart in a ceremony in his honor on Saturday. (The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving, on or after April 5, 1917, with the U.S. military.)

Getting to this point in life has not been easy for John. Not easy in getting the paperwork filled out and submitted and all of the proof that he needed to be awarded his Bronze Star or his Purple Heart, and not in his life in general.

Part of the problem in receiving his awards came because he had to have proof of what he did. An eye witness or a paper trail, proof that he had rescued these men under fire and proof that his injury was received during battle.

Proof for injuries was usually in the form of a metal tag that arrived with the soldiers. It stated how and when the men had been treated. Something John didn't have time to think about when he was injured. Like the men he treated, he was patched up and went right back to working in the middle of the battle. There were many other soldiers that had been injured who didn't have the documentation that they needed for Purple Hearts because of this. Many survived because of being treated but that final award had been taken away because of the situation.

The experiences that John was part of as just a teenager and young man in his early 20s, changed him. The memories of what he saw and the men he had to treat still haunt him to this day. He was able to help prisoners from the Gunskirchen Lager concentration camp. Stories from that experience alone are unimaginable. The prisoners were in such terrible condition and the stench he still remembers. As a medic, his job was to find the prisoners that were still alive, which meant sorting through what many of us have seen depicted in movies or pictures from the time, the mountains of bodies to find people that were still alive in trenches or in the huts in the beds, where sometimes there would be 4 bodies, and one of those still alive.

Upon his return home, his parents soon realized that he needed more help than they could give him. No one understood PTSD at the time or understood how to help men like John who had seen and had to do things that no one should have to.

Often John would disappear into the mountains near his family's new home in California. His mom finally made a call to the Army asking for help. He finally received treatment and met his wife Marion an Army nurse. She was part of the team that treated John in the California hospital. From Vinton, the couple married and lived here. The couple had two children and were together until she passed away. John is now married to the former Jill Blank and the couple will be celebrating their 16th Anniversary this year.

Unable to hold a job because of his flashbacks, he found his calling and became a handyman and made his own hours. The stress of a schedule and trying to mesh with co-workers made this job much easier for him.

John has also spent thousands of hours helping at the local VA Hospital in Iowa City, at last count he had crossed the 10,000 hour mark for hours that he's volunteered. He drives the 120+ mile round trip to volunteer at the hospital using his own car and gas money. While he hasn't been on the payroll as a soldier, his service has never stopped. Having the heart to help the men that have been where he was, his listens and encourages those that are struggling.

After all of his experiences, he said the thing that saved his life was when a teacher, Kelly Steffen in the local school district convinced him to begin speaking to classrooms full of teenagers about his experiences. He started to attend “Vets in the classroom” with other Veterans. He's traveled as far away as Illinois to share parts of his story. He remembers the first time he tried to speak, he couldn't and had to leave the classroom.

As he talked about sharing his experiences with the children, his face changed. "The nicest one was in Decorah, they pulled all of the kids in to listen to me talk. But the best one was in North Linn, those kids were just all over me," he said as his eyes lit up. He said on one trip to speak to students, the class was made up of really young children, and he realized he'd have to change what he usually shared with the classroom.

He shared a story about how when he first arrived in Vinton, an area businessman invited him to join the Legion. He told the man that he couldn't because he had never served. In reality, he wasn't ready to revisit that time of his life. The gentleman found out that John had later made a Veteran Homestead claim on his property and lectured him severely about how he would get in trouble with the Feds for doing that since he wasn't a Veteran. The cat was then out of the bag. John said as he was listening, he wondered why the Feds would be after him, "What'd I do?" he said with a chuckle.

He has since served as the Commander at the local Legion three times, he's earned his Honorary Membership. He thinks that in the history of the area Legion that there have only been a total of 6 members in the 100 year history of this Legion to receive this status. Benefits include paid dues for the rest of his life, and he also has a gold card as a lifetime member. "But I will keep paying my own dues," John said. The awards and recognition he's received over his lifetime are numerous.

He's helped to get the local Legion up and running again in the 80s after it had fallen on hard times. He shared a story about a fundraiser they put on in the old location. They had some dancing girls come in. He remembers as he took the money from the fundraiser to the bank on Monday morning, some of the area businessmen at the time made it clear that this type of fundraising wasn't acceptable and that he shouldn't do it again. But they softened a bit in their criticism when they found that he was able to raise $3,000 which went a long way to keeping the Legion operational at the time.

John has won several awards as a veteran and been recognized by Presidents Obama and Trump.

He believes that there are only 5 remaining World War II Veterans left in Vinton, of which he's the youngest.

John collects military/veteran pins which he's assembled on several framed displays. Of course, anything that is related to the military, John loves it and tries to collect it, much to his wife Jill's chagrin.

John is one of the good guys. A man with a heart as big will fit in his chest, and a man who cares for his fellow veterans. Spending a lifetime helping those like himself, has defined him as a man. While he still faces the demons from his past, he has taken those experiences to help so many like him. Receiving his Purple Heart was one more step in realizing just how important this man is in our community.

Thank you John for your service and congratulations on receiving your much deserved Purple Heart.

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