A local World War II veteran wants to be buried with his Purple Heart, but his attempt to get his lost medal replaced has hit delay after delay. The I-Team looked into what's causing the hold up.
This Oak Creek veteran has been trying to get his medal replaced for almost a year. The short answer to why it's taking so long? He's a Marine. It's the only branch of the military that uses a different verification process for replacing medals.
Joe Juszczak was 17-years-old and about to fight a key battle against the Japanese. He told us he remembers being scared. It was August 1942.
Joe's Marine platoon had orders to take back Guadalcanal in the Solomon Islands. The Japanese were building an air base there which would give them control of shipping routes in the Pacific.
The Marines secured the island, but then had to defend it against waves of Japanese attacks. A couple of months later Joe's platoon was ambushed. He was injured by enemy fire the day after Thanksgiving. "In the chest, in shoulder and it came out the arm," Joe explained.
He spent a year-and-a-half in the hospital and was awarded a Purple Heart. Years later the medal was lost during a move.
Last year Joe's neighbor, Alex Zimny, jumped in to help. He worked through Congressman Paul Ryan's office hoping it would be a speedy process.
"I really thought this would have gone a lot quicker," Zimny commented. Instead it's been almost a year of delays. In December Ryan's office submitted a request with the United States Marine Corps.
According to the Congressman's spokesperson, "our office has requested numerous status updates, both in writing and over the phone, often to have the requests go unanswered. The USMC has extended the previously provided deadline numerous times."
The latest delay came a few weeks ago. The Marine Corps extended Joe's case to October 30th, ten months after his request was first filed. According to Ryan's office the USMC is the only branch of service that still does its own verification of awards entitlement, a slow process. We reached out to the other branches of the military. The Air Force handles 45,000 requests for medal replacements a year. On average the process takes only 90 days.
Zimny said he's "disappointed, particularly with the Marine Corps." He's also frustrated by what he feels is a lack of recognition for Joe's service whose platoon played a key role in Japan's first defeat on land. "That was a fairly historic moment for the Marine Corps, fighting in that battle. That was a turning point of World War II in the Pacific."
This year Joe had a second stroke. At 93-years-old Joe just has one wish, "when i die I want it in my coffin."
Joe told us he has no family left. His wife of 72 years died in 2016. He also lost his daughter. If something happens to Joe before his Purple Heart is replaced he told us the Marines might as well "throw it out," because he has no one to give it to.
A USMC spokesperson told us there has been an increase in the number of requests and the awards branch works to answer each in turn. The Marine Corps also said quote "we regret the length of time it has taken to provide a response to Mr. Juszczak; however, the verification process is paramount to the integrity of the Marine Corps awards system."
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