WWII veteran, 90-year-old Sgt. Clifford Heinrich received five medals of honor, including the Purple Heart, decades after his time in service.
“These medals were all for my crew,” Heinrich said after the medal bestowment program ended on Monday at Alma Schrader Elementary School on Cape Girardeau.
At just 19-years-old, Heinrich was an Air Corps tail gunner during the war, and also the only survivor when his 10-member crew’s B-17 crashed over southwest England on its way back from a bombing mission on December 23, 1944. He spent over a year in the hospital, recuperating from a fractured skull and a severe injury to his foot. He has no memory of the crash.
According to Dave Hitt, a local veteran that organized the medal bestowment through U.S. Sen. Roy Blunt’s office, the medals never reached Heinrich after his convalescence.
James Bass, another WWII veteran that provided historical context for the program claims that although the exact reason for the plane crash remains unknown, it is thought that the winters of 1944 and 1945 in that area of the crash were considered the worst in 50 years.
“It was always just bone-chilling. You couldn’t get warm,” Bass said.
A nurse named Lt. Megan Lewis had heard the plane crash near Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service, but by the time she and other first responders found the wreckage, most of Heinrich’s crew were already dead or dying. Lewis was the one that pulled him from the plane and helped stabilize him before he was sent to another hospital to heal.
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