Family receives Purple Heart 75 years after veteran sold it for food
By FRANK WILKES LESNEFSKY | The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. | Published: June 8, 2019
SCRANTON, Pa. (Tribune News Service) — Pvt. William Myack stormed Utah Beach on D-Day, fighting his way through France and into Germany with the Army's 4th Infantry Division.
After suffering numerous casualties, the Army sent Myack's division into Germany's Hurtgen Forest, said his nephew, Sgt. 1st Class Ronald Skamanich. On Dec. 3, 1944, with artillery shells raining down, Myack ran for cover. As he climbed into a tank, his rifle discharged, blowing off part of his foot, his nephew said.
Myack returned to Scranton with his Purple Heart, but there were no jobs, Skamanich said.
He bought food from a corner store with store credit, and at the end of the month when his bill was due, he didn't have money.
"You had to pay your bill," Skamanich said, explaining the store owner collected memorabilia and displayed it at the shop. "Willie didn't have any money, so he had to sell his Purple Heart for food."
Seventy-five years later, 94-year-old Mary Usckizczy received a new Purple Heart on her late brother's behalf. Capt. Nicole Garza presented the medal to Usckizczy on Friday at Linwood Nursing and Rehabilitation Center.
The room fell silent as Usckizczy clasped the Purple Heart with her brother's name inscribed on the back -- something she waited 75 years to do.
"Every time my mother went by that store, it bothered her," Skamanich said. "She said, 'That's my brother's Purple Heart.'"
She thought it was impossible the family would ever get the medal back, he said.
"No soldier should have to do that -- sell their medals for food," Skamanich said.
Myack's great-great-great-nieces and -nephews, including brothers Brittain Banull, 13, and Joseph, 9, also attended Friday's ceremony.
"It's kind of inspiring in a way," Brittain said. "It's not something you see every day."
His younger brother agreed.
"It's neat because I've never seen a Purple Heart awarded," Joseph said. "I've never seen it presented to anybody. You're amazed because it's one of your family members that gets this, and you're proud of your family."
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