PORT WASHINGTON — Wisconsin lawmakers have honored a World War II veteran and Nazi prisoner of war camp survivor by renaming Port Washington's post office after him.
"The people that get a post office named after them are very special people. You have to have done something pretty extraordinary to have that honor," said Sen. Ron Johnson on Saturday at a ceremony outside the post office honoring Joe Demler.
Demler died last year at 94. He worked at the Port Washington Post Office for 37 years, eventually working his way up to assistant postmaster.
Johnson, a representative for Sen. Tammy Baldwin, Rep. Glenn Grothman, members of Demler's family and other guests unveiled a plaque outside the post office bearing it's new name: the Joseph G. Demler Post Office.
At 19, Demler fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was captured.
In 1945, Life Magazine published a photo of him, emaciated, in a Nazi prisoner of war camp.
The human skeleton, as he became known, returned to the United States after the camp was liberated. He weighed just 69 lbs at the time.
Demler settled in Port Washington after the war and raised a family.
Last year, Senators Johnson and Baldwin came together to introduce legislation to rename the building after Delmer. The bipartisan effort had no trouble passing into law.
Senator Baldwin said when introducing the legislation that “Joe Demler bravely served our country during World War II, and deserves to have his service and sacrifice to our nation honored."
At the ceremony on Main Street, attendees warmly remembered Demler.
"Joe meant the world to us. He was our neighbor. He was the kindest man you could meet. He had such a big heart," said Kathy Plier, a neighbor of Demler.
"He was humble. He was kind. He could be funny, too," said Pat Cottrell, a Port Washington resident.
Mayor Ted Neitzke, who hosted the ceremony, said he remembers Demler from his childhood. He said Joe was one of the postal workers who saved him stamps for his collection.
"As you grew older and began to appreciate things you learned this man served the ultimate sacrifice and he walked among us," said Neitzke.
Later in life, Joe organized honor flights to get veterans to Washington D.C. to visit war memorials.
A friend, and fellow World War II veteran, Julian Plaster, spoke at the event as well.
"I sure hope heaven is good. Because Joe, you served your time in hell," said Plaster.
After surviving the horrors of a prisoner of war camp, Joe had a saying about life: "Everyday is a bonus."