VALPARAISO — Like many thousands who fought in World War II, Kouts native Harrison Chael was wounded in battle. Few waited longer to receive his Purple Heart.
Chael, who will be 99 Dec. 13, finally received the medal Saturday during a ceremony at Rittenhouse Village senior living center in Valparaiso. More than 50 friends and family attended the presentation along with U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-Gary, and Chael's brother Dick. The medal was presented to Chael by Marine Lt. Col. Thomas Gualandi.
Gualandi told Chael he was going to keep his remarks short because "you've waited long enough."
Chael had just turned 22 when he enlisted in the Marines three weeks after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. He served in the Pacific and was involved in the battles for Saipan and Tinian. It was during the former he received a shrapnel wound to the right side of his face on July 9, 1944.
His grandson J.D. Chael said his grandfather talked about the incident many times over the years, saying he was in a foxhole with another man when they heard a noise. The other man rolled over to see what it was and put his leg on a grenade. Chael rolled out of the foxhole as the grenade exploded, killing the other man.
Chael said Saturday he didn't realize he'd been hit until another soldier told him he was bleeding. He was given medical attention and sent back into the line. Chael said he never even put his rifle down. J.D. Chael said his grandfather was given the paperwork to claim his Purple Heart when he was mustered out in December 1945, but he returned home and got involved in his postwar life without sending it in.
In his later years he talked about wanting to get his Purple Heart. Things began moving in that direction after his wife, Dorothy, died a couple of years ago. J.D. Chael said he was helping his father clean out his grandfather's house in preparation for moving him to the assisted care facility when they came across the War Department telegram notifying the family Chael had been wounded.
J.D. contacted Visclosky's office for assistance, and on Aug. 28 they received a letter saying Chael's Purple Heart would be awarded and all the other combat medals he received would be reissued, including the Combat Action Ribbon for service in the war, Presidential Unit Citation given to the 4th Marine Division for service on Saipan and Tinian, the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Saturday's ceremony was a complete surprise arranged by his family. It included one more award. The String-a-Long Stars and Stripes Quilts of Valor of Northwest Indiana presented quilts to both Chael and his brother Dick, who served in the Army in the Philippines from 1943-1945. The Rev. Robert Hauter of St. Paul Lutheran Church in Kouts said he's only known the Chaels for 13 years but praised both brothers as "some of the kindest men I've ever met."
As friends and relatives gathered around him after the ceremony to express their love and pose for pictures, Chael said he was very happy and very surprised by the event.
"They must have worked their tails off," he said.
Visclosky said he could not recall anyone waiting longer to receive their medal during their lifetime. Perhaps appropriately, the presentation came on the 243rd anniversary of the Marine Corps.