A lifetime later, a soldier gets his Purple Heart
Seventy years after being sprayed with shrapnel during the Battle of the Bulge, former Army Pfc. Herman Chidekel was awarded the Purple Heart on Monday for his service during World War II.
Chidekel, 88, of Glen Mills, Pennsylvania, was discharged from the Army in 1945, went to college, started a family, and worked in book publishing.
He had largely forgotten about his injuries until recently, when he was getting an MRI and the metal remnants of his war wounds interfered with the test.
"They did an X-ray and there it was, shrapnel all up and down one of his legs," said Maj. Gen. Louis H. Guernsey Jr., who presented the medal at a ceremony after the Radnor Memorial Day Parade.
It's unclear why Chidekel hadn't received the award before. But his personnel records were among those destroyed in a fire at an Army records building in St. Louis in the 1970s.
Chidekel said he is proud and happy to receive the medal now, but the ceremony brought up "a lot of mixed feelings."
"My thoughts go back to when we were involved in the war, my comrades who are long gone," Chidekel said.
On the other hand, he said, "I'm happy for my grandchildren. They inspired me to really pursue this, and I wanted to do it for them."
Chidekel has two sons and five grandchildren. Asia and Hannah Chidekel are both 18 — the same age their grandfather was when he went to war.
"I'm unbelievably proud that he's my grandpa," said Asia, watching as well-wishers and reporters circled the honoree after the ceremony. "I can't wait to hug him."
Through the fog of war and the passage of time, Chidekel said, he remembers very little about his injury. "I just remember that was a horrible winter. It was very, very cold, and I think we were just numb from being out there," he said.
Hannah and her parents, who live in Chadds Ford, went to France last year and experienced some of those conditions firsthand.
"We went to Normandy and walked on the beach," said Stacy Chidekel, his daughter-in-law. "He would tell us how cold it was, and how far they walked in the rain. So we went and walked in the rain like he did."
Back then, Chidekel said, "It was a different time, a different place. We all felt we had a mission." Chidekel said he fears that sense of purpose is diminishing in the younger generations.
The Radnor Memorial Day Parade showed a different story.
Veterans of numerous wars walked hand-in-hand with their children and grandchildren. Boy Scouts saluted, Girl Scouts waved flags, and cadets from the Valley Forge Military Academy Regimental Band played expertly as a crowd of about 200 sang the national anthem.
Waiting for the Purple Heart ceremony to begin, 4-year-old Jack Walish approached men and women in uniform, looking up from knee height and saluting.
"Thank you for being brave. Thank you for your service. Thank you for keeping us safe," said Jack, dressed in a pilot's uniform and his father's Navy hat.
His mother, Fran Walish, said Jack thanks soldiers, sailors, airmen, firemen, police, anyone in uniform — and not just on parade days.
The military "has always been a part of his life. He knows what it means when he says 'thank you,' " she said.