WWII veteran who was POW awarded Purple Heart at age 94

A World War II veteran, who spent more than a year as a prisoner of war, was awarded the Purple Heart at 94 years of age.

Max Bergen, of Chippewa Falls, Wis., said he was overwhelmed and stunned by the honor when he received the medal on Friday, the Leader-Telegram reported.

"I don't know if words can accurately describe how I feel," he told the Leader-Telegram. "It took a long time for it to sink in. I didn't realize it would mean so much to me, but it does. I'm just grateful for all the work done for me."

In 1943, Bergen joined the U.S. Army and served on the Army Air Forces bomb squadron when he was shot down over Germany in 1944.

"I was the tail gunner," he said. "We had flown over Brunswick, Germany. As we came off the target, we were hit by German fighters."


The pilot flew the aircraft lower to the ground and offered to let the passengers fly out to safety. However, no one took him up on the offer.

“We were told we were going to crash,” Bergen said. “Our pilot was so good — we slid in almost as gently as you would on a landing. I’d like to think God was flying that day.”

The plane crashed and Bergen was held prisoner at a camp in Austria for 14 months, with just a blanket and a board in his cell.

“A German soldier, he said in perfect English, ‘Come out with your hands up,’” Bergen said. “He said, ‘For you, the war is over.’”

He suffered shoulder and ankle wounds in the crash, but had no paperwork about the injuries because he was immediately taken prisoner. Such documentation is needed for the medal that honors troops injured in combat.

"I had a flesh wound in the left shoulder," Bergen said. "It was like someone threw gravel in my shoulder. It was shrapnel. My right ankle was bleeding. None of my wounds were serious."

He was freed in May 1945. He said all the passengers on the plane survived the war, but they have all passed away except for him.


Bergen said his son had looked into getting him a Purple Heart, but the lack of documentation stopped their efforts.

Documentation was recently assembled with help from Republican U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson and Mark Wilson, the commandant at the Chippewa Falls veterans' home where Bergen lives.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.