It took seven decades, but former U.S. Army Pvt. Horace Appleby finally got the dozen medals -- including the Silver Star -- that he earned on a European battlefield where he dashed into enemy fire to save a fellow soldier.
Now 101 years old and living in Toledo, Ohio, Appleby never gave much thought to what he did on Jan. 6, 1945, dismissing his inspiring valor as simply a soldier's duty. But his great-niece, Renee Hahn, became interested in the story, and started researching Appleby's military records, according to the Toledo Blade. Hahn found the long-yellowed military documents that proved her great uncle was an American hero.
“He's the family treasure,” Hahn, of Perrysburg, told the newspaper. “You better believe it.”
"I didn't think much about it. I did what I had to do."
- Horace Appleby
Hahn's efforts got the attention of Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, who made sure Appleby got the hardware -- and recognition -- for which he once risked his life. Last week, Kaptur presented Appleby with a slew of medals, including the Silver Star, Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, Honorable Service Lapel Button and the Marksman Badge with rifle bar.
Appleby's recollection remains clear of his time as a member of Company E, 180th Infantry Regiment. Deployed in Europe, Appleby's unit was dug in and under fire for 22 months when an Axis onslaught finally forced it to withdraw. When the men realized one of their own was missing, Appleby braved enemy fire to go back and retrieve the man, according to military documents.
"I didn't think much about it," shrugged Appleby, a Tuscaloosa, Ala. native who was drafted on July 31, 1941 at age 27. "I did what I had to do."
Kaptur said presenting the medals was a way "to pay tribute to a veteran whose memories and whose service have given us the liberty that we commemorate this July Fourth."
At a ceremony Thursday in Toledo's One Martitime Plaza, Appleby sat with a small American flag tucked into the pocket of his shirt and smiled when Kaptur handed him the Silver and Bronze stars.
“I didn’t know I had that,” he said.
Appleby came out of his daring dash unscathed, but, later that year, he experienced something that haunts him to this day: The sight of the emaciated and sick prisoners at the Dachau concentration camp, which Appleby's unit helped liberate in 1945. Soldiers gave up most of their rations to the prisoners, Mr. Appleby said.
“I hated to see that,” Mr. Appleby said of the starving people.