The brothers in New Jersey, now in their 70s, know that he drives a Jeep in Europe and was badly wounded in combat, but that’s its thing.
“We know very little because he’s not going to talk about it,” Jerry Deener told CNN. “He has a very large scar on the right side where he was beaten.”
Cpl. Harry Deener was given a Purple Heart but his sons do not know what happened to it after his death in 1986.
On Wednesday, Purple Hearts were returned to the brothers, along with his dog tags and Warrior Badge, in a ceremony at their grandparents’ former home in Maplewood, New Jersey.
Deener remarried after his wife died, so his medals and other works remained with his second wife until her death.
“She sent them to us and said, ‘Please find the family. These items belong to them,” said Erin Faith Allen, the group’s operations director.
The team did some research to verify his service and then tracked down Jerry, who was surprised when he received the call.
In addition to the medals, the brothers also received many awards to honor their parents.
Allen was also able to connect them with a 97-year-old veteran who served in the 242nd Infantry Regiment with their father and witnessed the attack. This person said the German pilot was flying low enough that he could be seen pulling the trigger.
“He saw himself getting hit. He saw the German plane going through the trees,” Mal Deener said.
They said the veteran saw the American plane shoot down the plane and that the enemy pilot was killed.
About 200 soldiers were there when the plane opened fire and their father was the only one injured, Jerry said.
He was wounded in April 1945, just days before the war ended.
The researchers said they held the medal ceremony at their grandparents’ old home because that’s where their father went when he returned home from the military.
Mal hasn’t been born yet and Jerry is only about 3 years old.
“My words to him were ‘Dad, where are we going?'” Jerry said. “That’s what they told me, I said, and he never gave us much feedback in our entire lives.”
Their father worked in the family’s retail store for most of his life.
“He’s a hard-working guy. He loves his job. He loves carpentry,” Jerry said, adding that he’s an avid sports fan and never misses matches. his son’s baseball game. “So that’s his kind of father.”
About 55 people attended the ceremony and Mal said the house’s current residents couldn’t be kinder.
“We had a tour of the house – I don’t think it’s been around for over 60 years,” he said. “It’s an important home for us because we often go there to see my grandparents.”
Both brothers agreed that their dad wouldn’t be comfortable with the ceremony because he didn’t like being the center of attention, but it brought back so many fond memories.
Jerry says the medal itself isn’t something they’ve given much thought to over the years, but the experience led to “our father’s reclamation.”
“After learning all of this, it not only brought back wartime stories about him, but made him human again,” he said.
Purple Hearts Reunited has returned lost or stolen medals and other items to 850 families and has returned 438 items to 109 families in 2021, Allen said.