Missing Purple Hearts awarded to 2 Siouxland soldiers

August 7, 2018
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Joseph Mark Hish was a World War I veteran who moved from Illinois to Hartington, Nebraska, after the war. He later worked as a mechanic in Sioux City. His son, Joseph Hish Jr., on Tuesday received the Purple Heart medal that his father never received.

WASHINGTON -- Joseph Hish Jr. spent a couple decades in the Air Force, stopping in dozens of countries along the way.

None of that compared, however, to what the 90-year-old Hartington, Nebraska, man experienced Tuesday.

In a ceremony in Washington, D.C., Hish received the Purple Heart Medal that his father, Joseph Mark Hish, never received for injuries suffered in a poison gas attack during World War I.

“I spent 21 years in the service. I’ve been around the world two and a half times, but this is the highlight of my military career, to get this medal for my father,” Hish said in a telephone interview from Washington.

Hish’s medal was one of eight returned at a ceremony conducted by Purple Hearts Reunited, a Vermont-based nonprofit foundation that returns medals of valor to veterans or their families. Since it was established in 2012, the organization has returned more than 500 lost medals, according to its website.

The ceremony coincided with Purple Heart Day, held on Aug. 7 in recognition of the day in 1782 when George Washington created the award that later became known as the Purple Heart to honor those wounded or killed while serving in the armed forces.

The elder Hish was born in Illinois and enlisted in the U.S. Army. He served in the 89th Infantry Division in World War I, fighting in the Meuse-Argonne offensive from Sept. 29-Nov. 11, 1918. During the fighting, he was exposed to a poison gas attack, making him eligible for the Purple Heart. His son said he never signed the certificate to receive it.

Joseph Hish Jr. said his father moved to Hartington after the war to find work. He took a job for a farmer and later married the man’s daughter -- Joseph Hish Jr.’s mother. Hish later moved to Sioux City, where he worked as a mechanic, before leaving the area in 1928 to look for a better job. He died Dec. 29, 1963.

Joseph Hish Jr., now 90, said the gas attack damaged his father’s lungs and ultimately led to his death.

Hish said he didn’t know how the volunteers with Purple Hearts Reunited found him, but he was honored to travel to Washington to receive his father’s long-overdue medal.

“It was so profound,” Hish said of the ceremony that returned medals to veterans (or their family members) who served in World War I and II, Korea, Vietnam and Iraq.

Also honored Tuesday was Fred Mueller, an Ireton, Iowa, native who was killed in World War II during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944. A member of the famed 101st Airborne Division, Mueller died when the plane in which he was riding exploded in midair before he could be dropped over his landing zone in France. His Purple Heart was given to his granddaughter, Kristi Bonfigt, of Chandler, Arizona.

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