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Finding Minnesota: Granite Falls Silver Star

GRANITE FALLS, Minn. (WCCO) -- Every day we lose more men and women from the Greatest Generation.

People served our country in World War II, and many were recognized for their heroic acts. One of those brave veterans was Staff Sergeant Art Bottcher, who was awarded a Silver Star that his family couldn't find.

Military records show that Staff Sergeant Art Bottcher landed at Utah Beach and helped liberate a concentration camp in Czechoslovakia. He was wounded twice during the war and on the morning of March 28, 1945, he became an American hero.

"He was cut off from the rest of the troops by a force of 40 or more. He's keeping on them until his fellows come and help him out. That would be dad," said Bottcher's daughter, Jan Peterson.

Armed with just his carbine, Bottcher killed or wounded six enemy soldiers and was awarded the Silver Star. After he died in 2002, Jan found a container with her dad's war memorabilia. There was his uniform. A Purple Heart. A Good Conduct Medal. But something was missing.

"The Silver Star. Never saw the Silver Star," said Peterson.

She went through the proper channels to get a new Silver Star for her dad. But veteran Carl Ohliger got wind of the story and knew the original medal and its ribbon were out there, somewhere.

"It's easy to come to that conclusion that he threw it away so he didn't have to think about it. If you are subjected to the horror of killing or wounding six people, to walk into your home every evening and see a Silver Star, it all comes back. I surmised that he put it away and moved on," Ohliger said.

Wanting to do something to honor Bottcher, Carl contacted a sculptor about creating a memorial. The sculptor needed pictures of Bottcher's uniform, which Jan and her family had since donated to the Yellow Medicine County Museum.

"The light was just perfect and I noticed the lump right here in the right breast pocket," Ohliger said.

Carl found the uniform in the back and while taking pictures, he asked museum director Jennifer Disbrow to look inside. What she discovered was an original piece of history.

"Surreal. I didn't think I'd be able to find something like this," Disbrow said.

"The hair on my arms stood up. And I got very emotional about it. It's a big, big thing," Ohliger said.

"He was so excited. He's still excited at finding it inside that pocket," said Jan.

Carl is quick to point out other heroes who've been awarded the Silver Star and wore the ribbon on their uniforms.

"Gary Powers. Oliver North. John McCain. John Kerry. Lyndon Baines Johnson. Audie Murphy. Norman Schwarzkopp. And then....Art Bottcher. That's big," said Carl.

A big find for a small town. The hope is that stories like this ensure that this generation never forgets the Greatest Generation.

"Every town needs a hero. Granite Falls needs a hero. Art Bottcher is that hero," said Carl.

In addition to a sculptor for Staff Sergeant Bottcher, Jan said she's hoping to get the Granite Falls walking bridge renamed as the Silver Star walking bridge, in honor of her dad.

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