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WWII combat medic veteran finally receives Purple Heart at age 94

Published: Aug. 6, 2020 at 6:38 PM CDT
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VINTON, Iowa (KCRG) - Seventy-five years after he enlisted in the Army at age 18 to serve in World War Two, John Gualtier finally received his Purple Heart.

The 94-year-old Vinton man earned it and a Bronze Star while serving as a combat medic in the Army. His father served in World War I.

During the war, he treated wounded soldiers, including German soldiers. The only weapon he carried into combat was a pair of bandage scissors.

“I went from up until today even, wondering, a medic, at least in my case and some of the others I talked to, we have a guilty feeling all the time,” said Gualtier. “Like did we do the right thing.”

One of the most haunting parts of the war came weeks before it ended when he helped liberate a concentration camp.

“Pert near from day one to when the war ended, it was rough,” Gualtier recalled. “And then when the war, two weeks before the war ended, I got involved in the concentration camps and that was worse than the war. It was horrible, horrible sights, and the odor, the smell, I still get that today.”

Gualtier is the subject of a documentary, ‘Hero Among Us,’ showing what it was like. He struggled with the horrors of war for nearly his whole life, attempting suicide multiple times. He kept his service a secret for decades, until a few groups approached him, asking him to share his experience with students.

“I’ve got to give the kids, the teachers, and our VA now, the credit to sit here and talk to you, I could have never done this a few years back, I wouldn’t have,” Gualtier said. “My whole life just twisted around, all the good things just started happening.”

On June 20, he finally got a Purple Heart with his name on it. He was hit by shrapnel in the hand and the foot while treating soldiers in battle. No one logged his injuries so he could keep helping others, but it delayed getting his honor.

“There was so much fighting going on at that particular time, there was a lot of guys like me they just got a few pieces of shrapnel, and we patched them up and sent them back up without putting a tag on them,” Gualtier said.

A lifetime of holding his experiences close, now a first-hand account of a man who saved lives during one of the world’s darkest moments.

Copyright 2020 KCRG. All rights reserved.

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