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Focus on Fostoria - Dec_3_03

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Fostoria Focus - December 3, 2003

WWII Vet Carl Rhoades Receives
Purple Heart After 58 Years

By Leonard Skonecki
- Click for related picture -

Fostorian Carl W. Rhoades remembers April 3, 1945.

It was the day during World War II that he was wounded in action in a battle with 13 German tanks. Carl never received the Purple Heart due him for his action that day.

He received it Nov. 20 from the Seneca County Veterans Service Commission at a ceremony at St. Catherine's Care Center.

Carl was 18 years old and a member of the 811th Tank Destroyer Battalion. The battalion had orders to eliminate two German tanks that had pinned down elements of the American 80th Infantry Division in a village in southern Germany.

"The 80th Division told us there were only two tanks there so we went roaring in there like a bunch of wild men," Carl said.

They were in for a horrible surprise. There weren't two tanks – there were 13.

Thirteen Tiger tanks, the most powerful in the German army. The 811th took heavy casualties. Carl was among the wounded.

"It's a privilege for our office to make presentations of this sort. You have here a veteran who has given a lot for his country," said Dave young, president of the Seneca County Veterans Service Commission.

In addition, to the Purple Heart, Dave presented Carl with several other decorations he'd earned – the Victory Medal, African-European-Middle Eastern Theater Medal, Expert Rifleman's Badge, Honorable Service Medal and an American flag.

"I'll treasure this," Carl said.

The veterans Commission was asked by the staff at St. Catherine's to obtain Carl's decorations.
"I think anybody needs to be recognized for being in the service," said Debbie Cummings, St. Catherine's social service director. "I think it's easy to forget what these servicemen have done for our country and especially Carl. He has a heart of gold. So we wanted to pay special tribute by getting him his Purple Heart."

The German Tiger battle tank was a colossal machine. It weighed 56 tons with 100 mm thick armor. It's 88 millimeter cannon could pierce 105 millimeter armor at 1,000 meters.

The Tigers trained their firepower on the outgunned Americans.

The 811 had no chance.

"We had only 3/4 inch howitzers," Carl said. "So they could penetrate us, knock us out just like that and they did, just one right after another.

"That 88 would penetrate anything we had. The old Sherman tank, I've seen holes that big right through the front of them," he said, holding his hands apart.

Carl was caught in a storm of exploding shrapnel. Metal tore into the top and left side of his head and the back of his neck. He lost an eye. His hearing was permanently damaged.

The war had come to a very sudden , very violent end for Carl.

"They hauled us in to the aid station," he said. "Of course, I couldn't see. Couldn't hardly hear either."

He was hospitalized in Paris for a month and then was flown to Bristol, England.

"When I was in Bristol, my sight began to come back and then one day they came and told me, ‘We're gong to take you home."

Carl recovered from his wounds at Kennedy General Hospital in Memphis, Tenn.

"I was there until I got discharged on the Fourth of July, 1945. I got my independence," he chuckled.

Even getting home was tough. The vessel he was on hit a sunken ship as it left the harbor and bent a propeller blade.

"Every time that propeller made a turn the ship would go like that," he said, indicating a jolt. "And we went like that all the way across the ocean. Made you walk kind of funny, too."

The Statue of Liberty was a welcome sight for millions of returning GIs but Carl missed it.

"We sailed by the Statue of Liberty, but I couldn't even see it. I was still too blind," he said.

When Carl thinks of his military service, he remembers his buddies.

"I think of our comradeship. Everybody was close," he said. "My sergeant, he took over and really looked after me because I was only 18. I imagine he was in his mid 30s. He was a heckuva nice guy. He got killed when I got wounded."

Also present for the ceremony were American Legion Commander Art Allison, AMVETS Commander Ron Thompson, Fostoria United Veterans member Steve Krassow, Veterans Service Officers Mac McAuliffe and Tom Gernert, Veterans Service Commissioner Tom Evans and Veterans Service Commissioner Jim Rochester.

Carl didn't receive his Purple Heart when he was wounded simply because there weren't enough to go around.

"When they let us go they gave us just a ribbon. They were out of medals. They didn't have any in Britain to give us," he said. "When we came back to the States they didn't have any."

When the ceremony was over, fellow veteran and St. Catherine resident Norman Koons congratulated Carl.

"You made my day," Norman said.

Carl smiled and laughed. He said he was "kind of humbled." It was a good day for him, too.

For nearly 60 years, he has had his memories of service and bravery against insurmountable odds, memories he can take justifiable pride in.

Now his Purple Heart has caught up with the memories.

 

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