At Long Last, A Purple Heart

Leo Bach was an airman during World War II. He had to bail out during a combat mission and was seriously injured. But as John Blackstone reports, all that went unacknowledged by our government — until today.

Bach is a survivor. He made it through both Pearl Harbor and a German prisoner of war camp. He has the photographs and the memories to prove it. But what he didn't have was the Purple Heart he earned almost 62 years ago.

"I've put on years, and I've put on pounds," he says. "I want what's mine."

In April 1944, Bach was a crewman on a B-17 bomber shot down over Germany. He bailed out — "I was just floating down, quiet as hell," he says — and hit the ground hard, badly injuring his leg.

"Fifty miles southeast of Berlin, a Jew wandering around Germany," he says of his predicament. "That scared the hell out of me."

He was soon captured and spent 13 months in a prison camp — with no medical attention for his leg and no record of the injury for which he should have received a Purple Heart.

When the war was over, Bach got married, had kids and put combat behind him. Now, at age 86, he's a great-grandfather, he's written a memoir of his war years ... and he still has that limp from the day he bailed out over Germany.

"I hobble around now like an old man," he says.

But finally, 62 years later, the military has recognized that he was wounded in combat. In a ceremony Tuesday at Travis Air Force Base in California, Bach was awarded his Purple Heart

It's a long overdue message from a nation again at war that no soldier's sacrifice should ever be forgotten.
  • John Kreiser

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