98-year-old WWII veteran finally receives Bronze Star
The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa
WEST POINT, Iowa — It took 70 years, but 98-year-old Delbert Hasenclever finally was awarded the Bronze Star Medal he earned while fighting in World War II.
Hasenclever, who lives with his wife, Velma, at the West Point Care Center, was awarded the medal during a ceremony at the care center Friday afternoon. The room was filled with Hasenclever's friends and family members who applauded the hero for his service to his country.
"He doesn't like to talk a lot about what he did over there, because it must be some pretty gory details. But we knew he was supposed to get a Bronze Star," Hasenclever's nephew, Kerwin Woodroffe, said.
The tale of how Hasenclever finally obtained the medal goes all the way back to 1942, when he was drafted into the Army's infantry to help fight Word War II. Hasenclever's great-niece, U.S. Army Captain Nicole Woodroffe, related Hasenclever's story to the audience as the ceremony opened. Woodroffe has been consistent pen pals with Hasenclever, learning much about his life and the two years he spent overseas.
"I asked him one time, 'What did you think about being drafted?' We were already a nation at war, and he said simply, 'Let's do it,' " Woodroffe said.
That kind of can-do attitude saw Hasenclever through four campaigns during his two years and two months overseas - campaigns that covered much of northern France and central Europe. He served with the 78th "Lightning Division" as well as the 7th Armored Division as an automatic rifleman during his time in Europe, spending most of that time hiking, pulling guard duty and trying to survive the terrible cold.
"They just had the clothes on their back, a few provisions, his 45-pound weapon and the ammunition he would need for that day. Couldn't take a whole lot of extra comforts of home. Couldn't save a lot of the letters he received along the way," Woodroffe said.
Hasenclever arrived at Normandy just a few days after D-Day and eventually made his way to Belgium after the Battle of the Bulge. Though he performed admirably enough in combat to earn several medals, that's not something he really likes to talk about. Hasenclever simply did what he had to do, often with freezing feet.
"They had to take their boots off to protect their feet, and he would put his boots under his armpits at night to prevent them from freezing, to make sure he could get them on the next day," Woodroffe said.
Serving as a private first class, Hasenclever received the Army Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Theatre Ribbon with four bronze battle stars, one Service Stripe, five Overseas Service Bars and the Combat Infantry Badge.
The Bronze Star Medal wasn't conceived until 1943, and President Franklin D. Roosevelt authorized the creation of the medal the year after. The medal was made retroactive in 1947 to all soldiers who received the Combat Infantryman Badge or the Combat Medical Badge during World War II, but by then, Hasenclever's service to his country was long over.
It wasn't until Hasenclever's 97-year-old sister, Elda Woodroffe, started petitioning Sen. Charles Grassley's office for the medal that the wheels for the ceremony were put into motion. It was only fitting she be the one to pin the medal to her brother's chest.
Nicole Woodroffe simply smiled with pride and saluted her great-uncle after the medal was in place.
"This the honor of a lifetime," she said.
Lt. Col. Joni Ernst, a state senator from Red Oak, presided over Friday's ceremony and spoke about how difficult the process of obtaining the medal was. The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest individual military award and is rewarded for acts of heroism, merit or meritorious service in a combat zone.
"This is by no means a small award we are presenting to Delbert today. It is something he earned, and he's seen a lot of things that we as veterans have never seen and never hope to see," Ernst said.
A 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis dealt a serious blow to military records used to confirm who should receive medals, but that didn't stop Hasenclever from getting his. He was one of the lucky few.
"We know there are thousands and thousands of other Iowa warriors who are eligible for this reward but may never know they are eligible," Ernst said.