Wis. WWII veteran gets medal after 65 years
KENOSHA World War II veteran George Michel figured this year's local Veterans Day event would be just like all the others he'd attended in previous years. Then he started noticing family members in the audience, including a grandson and a daughter-in-law from Michigan.
"I thought, 'What in the Sam Hill is going on?'" said Michel, 88, of New Berlin.
He found out moments later, when organizers of the event in Kenosha announced that Michel was about to receive the World War II Victory Medal, 65 years after he left the U.S. Air Force.
When he heard that, "I just about melted," he said.
He couldn't hold back the tears Friday as he received congratulations and hugs, including an emotional embrace from his daughter. Capt. Craig Jansen of the Wisconsin National Guard pinned the commendation on Michel's uniform while hundreds of students, teachers, friends and family cheered.
Michel had served as a technical sergeant with the 576th Bomb Squadron, 392nd Bombardment Group, of the Eighth Air Force at Wendling Air Base in England. His first air mission came just days after the D-Day invasion in June 1944.
He recalled one mission in which his plane became disabled over Germany, but he was able to safely maneuver it into Swiss territory.
Michel later he met Jim Lentz, a fellow veteran and the founder of the Parkside Military Veterans Organization. Lentz, a retired Army staff sergeant, asked Michel at one meeting why he wasn't wearing the Victory Medal. Michel said he'd never gotten one, and he wasn't sure why.
So Lentz began working to get him one. When he finally learned the medal was on its way, he and Michel's family decided to keep it a secret until Friday's announcement at the Stocker Elementary School assembly.
Michel said many friends died during the war. That, he said after the ceremony, is why young people today need to know why America fights.
"We have to tell people that freedom is so valuable," he said.