Bert, 92, of Lower Macungie stood in the national limelight in February when he and other surviving members of the elite American-Canadian commando unit, the 1st Special Service Force, received the Congressional Gold Medal in Washington, D.C. Bert brought the medal with him to LCCC and spoke with warmth and humor about his wartime experience in the Devil’s Brigade.When he was wounded in 1944, he told the crowd in his favorite line, “It was an international incident. German artillery fired from Italy into France hit me, an American; a Canadian gave me first aid; and a Russian-American Jewish doctor operated on me.”
I had met Bert at one of the annual banquets of Lehigh Valley Chapter 190, Military Order of the Purple Heart, and interviewed him for my Morning Call series, “War Stories: In Their Own Words.” The story ran on Memorial Day 2012. http://articles.mcall.com/2012-05-27/news/mc-memorial-day-war-story-winzer-20120527_1_monte-la-difensa-1st-special-service-force-germans I wrote about Bert again a year later when he received a long-overdue Bronze Star medal. After he got the Congressional Gold Medal, he was invited back to Washington, this time to the French Embassy, to receive the French Legion of Honor. Bad weather kept him from going, though, and instead the medal was mailed to him. He was also honored this month at a meeting of the Lower Macungie Township Board of Commissioners.
His happy appearance at Sunday’s event contrasted with somber remembrances by family and friends of soldiers, sailors, airmen and Marines no longer living. Songs sung by Erin Kelly, who performed at the first KVM ceremony in 2005, reminded everyone of what sacrifice is about — the national anthem, “I’m Proud To Be an American,” “God Bless America.” Names of vets added to pavers were read – Jack Covington, John Groller, Robert Hargreaves and a dozen others — and their family members came forward. At the end, a three-volley rifle salute by American Legion Post 576 and the playing of taps cemented the mood.
As a non-veteran, I felt out of place in this gathering of a few hundred as I looked around at the attendees, among them Vietnam vets in their biker jackets. All were attentive and deeply respectful, drawn together by camaraderie that I can’t hope to identify with. Bert summed it up as he closed his speech: “I’m the same as all of you. We all have a job to do. We do it. We’re all heroes.”