Northlake World War II injured vet fights for Purple Heart

Sixty-nine years after he was injured in World War II and 15 years after he first applied, Russell Duller of Northlake is still seeking to be awarded the Purple Heart medal.

On April 30, 1945, Duller was patrolling a road in Rhineland, Germany. A sergeant in an army reconnaissance unit, he was picking up German soldiers who were trying to get home before the Russians caught them.

“I was driving because my driver was sick that day,” said Duller, now 90.

It was afternoon and he was driving on a narrow lane through woods with Fred Kane and two others, Peek and Helbock.

“I was driving our Jeep with Kane sitting next to me and Peek and Helbock in the rear when we hit a mine,” he wrote in his journal. “Our Jeep was demolished. The whole front end was blown off. We found the bumper about 30 yards to the left, the fender about the same distance to the right. We were never able to find our right wheel.”

Everyone but Duller was blown out of the vehicle.

“All of a sudden, boom!” said Duller “That’s all I remember. I got up and started running away. I was kind of knocked unconscious but still moving. We didn’t have our wits about us.”

The leg of Fred Kane was badly broken. He was sent to a battalion hospital and that was the last Duller saw of him.

He found Helbock and Peek lying on the ground, but ultimately they suffered minor injuries. Along with Duller the three went to a field hospital.

“A doctor told me my right eardrum was broken,” Duller said. “It would heal. From the field hospital, we were sent back to the company the same afternoon. That was the way most of the field hospitals worked. As soon as they could get you out, you were back on duty.”

When the war in Europe ended, Duller’s unit was broken up. He was on board a ship to Japan when World War II ended. He was discharged on Feb. 16, 1946 and returned to his wife in Melrose Park.

The couple had two boys and a girl. Duller went to work for a printing company in Chicago and in the 1950s started a printing company named Bank Forms Inc. with a partner in Melrose Park.

While enlisted, Duller had been awarded several campaign medals but never an individual medal. Forty-four years later, that began to bother him.

“My grandson was a cop up north,” Duller said. “I was his hero. He always wore my dog tags. He said to me, ‘I read in your journal when you were hurt and they blew up your Jeep, but I don’t see where you got the Purple Heart. Why didn’t you ever get it?’”

A Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers who were wounded by enemy action. Duller applied for the medal in 1999.

“They keep telling me there is no record of it,” Duller said. “There was a big fire in St. Louis that burned up many of the records.”

Duller is referring to a fire July 12, 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center, part of the National Archives. According to the National Archives website, the fire destroyed 16 million to 18 million military personnel records, or about 80 percent of records of those who were discharged between 1912 to 1960. No duplicate records were maintained.

Duller, however, thinks there are other records that would verify his injury.

“If they went ahead and went back to division records, every day they have day records where they post activities of the day and what happened that day,” Duller said. “The staff sergeant had an aide who did that. I think if they took the time to do it they could trace records that went that far back.”

That hasn’t happened, so Duller has sought help elsewhere. Among others, he’s sent letters to Veterans Legal Support, Gary Sinese Foundation, columnist John Kass at the Chicago Tribune, senators Dick Durbin and Mark Kirk, President Obama, and U.S. Reps. Tammy Duckworth and Mike Quigley.

Of all of those, only Quigley’s office helped, but not with Duller’s main goal. A staff person helped Duller get a $130 a month pension for a training injury when Duller was enlisted.

Duller knew Fred Kane came from Chugwater, Wyoming (population 212). He ran an advertisement in the local newspaper asking for anyone with information about Kane to contact him. He received a letter from a former neighbor and friend of Kane’s who said Kane had received the Purple Heart Medal on June 22, 1945, six weeks after being released from the battalion hospital. Kane, however, had died in the late 1970s.

Duller’s wife died in 2005. A year later he moved to Casa San Carlo retirement home in Northlake. In the next few months he’ll begin serving as the president of the Residents Council.

“I think I’m being written off as a 90-year-old kook who is chasing around,” Duller said. “I’ve earned (the Purple Heart) and never been awarded it. I want the pride of wearing the medal.”

0 Comments

Modal