World War II veteran receives missing medals
BY: Felice E. Krycia-associate editor | November 09, 2011
Friday, Nov. 11 is Veteran’s Day, a day to take a moment to remember all those men and women who have served their country in the military.
For Aloysius “Al” Erker, 92, of the Town of Boston and a World War II veteran, this year’s Veteran’s Day has a special meaning.
Almost 66 years after Corporal Erker was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, a ceremony was held in Buffalo on the USS Little Rock to recognise his service and present him with five medals that he had earned but never received.
This past Aug. 10, Erker was presented with the American Defense Service Medal, European – Middle East – African Service Medals with Bronze Arrowhead and the Good Conduct Medal for his four years in combat zones during World War II.
Erker was 21 when he was drafted in March 1941. One week before he was to report for duty he asked Gertrude Young, of Buffalo, to marry him.
On Sept. 20, 1941 they were married and then he returned to base at Plattsburgh.
“We were parading in Plattsburgh when I heard on the radio that Pearl Harbor had been attacked by the Japanese,” Erker said. “Well it wasn’t long after that we shipped out.”
Erker, who was a member of the 36th Engineer Brigade (Seahorse), said they did the majority of their work within 15 miles of the front lines.
“I remember once this guy came back from the front and was with us for awhile. He told us he was going back to the front because it was safer. I always wondered if he made it home,” Erker said.
During his tour of duty, Erker went to French Morocco, on Dec. 12, 1942 he was in North Africa and spent Christmas Eve 1942 in Tunisia. He also went to Sicily, Rome–Arno. Southern France, Central Europe and the Rhineland.
“In Sicily there were air raids almost every day and we were constantly being strafed with bullets.
“As we were reaching the end of the war I was even up at Hitler’s mountain retreat (Berghof, Obersalzberg). I remember there were papers strewn all over,” Erker said.
No matter where he was, there was always time for a letter or a photograph with a note on it to send to his wife.
“I still have all his letters that I saved,” Gertrude, 89, said. “I would write him all the time too. It was important to keep in touch.”
“Everything I sent out was censored, I could never let her know where I was, but I wanted her to know I was safe,” Erker said.
“Well, I knew where he was, because I knew what general his unit was attached to. The papers and newsreels were always saying what General Patton and General Eisenhower were doing and where they were, so I knew where Al was,” she said.
By 1945 Erker was diagnosed with malaria and was sent back to a hospital in France for about two weeks.
When he recovered he was sent back to his unit and within a few days his name was called to be discharged and sent home. That was Aug. 14, 1945.
“My name was the third name called to be sent home,” Erker said.
The trip home by ship took 30 days.
“It was the slowest ship I was ever on,” Erker said. “I slept up top, because so many of the soldiers who were down below were being sea sick and the smell was pretty bad.
“So I found myself a corner up on the deck and slept out there. You learn to grab a spot for yourself pretty quick when your in a war,” he said.
Upon returning stateside, the Erkers got on with their lives, and have three children, Thomas (Judith), and Daniel (Ann) Erker and Nancy (Peter) Seereiter, nine grandchildren and 23 great-grandchildren.
It was two of their grandsons, U.S. Army Lt. Col. Daniel Erker and U.S. Marine Corp Lt. Col. Kevin Erker who were instrumental in having their grandfather’s medals presented to Erker.
“They found out he was entitled to those medals and they were going to make sure he got them,” Gertrude said.
It appeared that Erker was mustered out of the Army so fast, his medals were never presented to him and were forgotten by everyone.
“That was a great day when he was presented with those medals,” his wife said.
Gertrude was also honored at that special ceremony on Aug. 10, where she received a framed copy of the Military Wife’s Prayer.
The couple, who celebrated their 70th wedding anniversary on Sept. 20, are proud of their family’s service to this country.
“We’ve lived through wars and some hard times, but this is a great country and I would serve again if I needed to,” Erker said.