MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) – This Thanksgiving, a Minnesota World War II veteran doesn't take anything for granted.
Joe Kovar was awarded the Purple Heart after surviving Battle of the Bulge, the bloodiest battle in U.S. history.
"I've got 18 medals, but I don't consider myself a hero because the heroes are all buried over there," he said.
For decades Kovar kept his war stories buried deep inside, not even telling his wife or kids. Until he saw what could happen if he started talking. He shared his story to WCCO This Morning in hopes of helping other veterans here at home.
For most of us, World War II can only be imagined through clips of grainy black and white film.
But 91 year-old Kovar still sees the war clearly in his mind.
"I saw everything there is to see in combat," he said.
Kovar arrived in France in 1944. As a 19-year-old kid from Anoka the details from that first attack are impossible to forget.
"The shells started, boom, boom, boom, and they're hitting. And when they hit they could blow a house like this up," Kovar said. "It's very scary that first shelling."
In another ambush the Germans nearly wiped out his unit.
"We had a shelling that went on for about an hour and it took 57 of my comrades out," he said. "Fifty-seven in one afternoon."
If war could get worse, Kovar's unit was underprepared for Battle of Bulge's infamous cold, wintery weather.
"The weather conditions were worse than the Germans," he said.
His group lived, ate and slept outside, not stepping foot in a building for six weeks.
"We had no ear muffs, gloves or heavy socks, anything like that. We were in our summer clothes yet," Kovar said. "No way to get warm. You can't build a fire, they'll see you and kill you."
The attacks continued into the spring when Kovar faced what eventually earned him the Purple Heart. By his side that day, a young comrade, named Murphy.
"He was so scared. He was hanging on my arm like a little kid," Kovar said.
The shooting began, and Kovar was hit.
"I caught a piece of shrapnel in my arm, it cut all the nerves, and my arm was dead" he said. "I looked over at Murphy and he wasn't as lucky. He was dead. He caught shrapnel that killed him."
Kovar survived the war when many did not. For him there's only one explanation.
"I was so protected by angels over there," he said.
And for all the horror he witnessed, there's one memory that brings him tears of joy. Onboard a ship, heading home.
"New Year's Eve, we saw the blessed lights of Virginia Beach and you can't believe the feeling, the feeling we were home, home, home," he said.
Hard to believe that Kovar never shared any of those stories up until six years ago when someone offered to pay him to speak to their group. He started charging $300 per speech and gives several a week.
He gives every cent he earns back to veterans programs and homes. To date he says he's raised more than $40,000.
Kovar's wife Agnes, or "Sis," helps him with all those events. They married in 1948 and have four children, 12 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
To schedule a speaking engagement, contact Joe at email@example.com
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