WWII Veteran Dies While Seeking Purple Heart

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MILWAUKEE - After years of fighting for a purple heart a World War II veteran from Milwaukee has died without the honor, but his family and a local veterans group are vowing to fight on. 

I met Orville Lemke of Milwaukee on the Honor Flight November 6th last year.  Stars and Stripes Honor Flight Chairman Joe Dean got to know him too, "...classic World War II generation humble and dignity personified."

But Lemke apparently couldn't do enough to convince military officials that he deserved the honor of a Purple Heart. 

His daughter, Ann Rasmusson, was with Lemke on the Honor Flight and heard all about his service.  "He risked his life for our country but they're not believing his word that he was actually injured."

Lemke served as an infantry communications specialist in Germany in 1945.  Dean had the chance to talk with Lemke about his time on the front line.  "The Germans were shelling his unit.  He ended up in the middle of it and he said he tried to just melt into the frozen snow, and uh, unfortunately got hit by the shrapnel."

Lemke kept working.  Days later his wounds got infected and he was forced to get medical treatment.  His injury was listed as an infection and Lemke never corrected it to say that he was hit by enemy fire.  Asking for a record change at the time would have meant a delay in heading home.  Rasmusson says her dad just wanted to get back to his life and family.  Lemke spent his last eight years of life fighting for his Purple Heart.

Rasmusson says, "The answer we keep getting back is that the records were burned in a fire.  They can't verify that he was actually injured."

Dean and his group have been trying to help, but to no avail.  "We're a little bit frustrated to be honest with you."

Lemke died of cancer Christmas Eve.  He was 85.  He did not have a Purple Heart.

Rasmusson says, "On his headstone we're leaving a space for it because we truly believe that he deserves this honor."  She says her dad taught her and his eight other children to live with dignity and respect and he's not getting that in return.

"I just don't get it.  I just need...I need...them to understand  and believe his word," she says.

Rasmusson says it's too late for her father but her family would be honored to accept the award on his behalf.  Dean says his group will keep fighting for Lemke, "It really underlines the sense of urgency that we have with 900 of these heroes dying every single day in our country."

I contacted Congressman Paul Ryan's (R-Janesville) office.  He's been assisting the family.  Here is the statement I received from Congressman Ryan:

"Our nation owes a great debt of gratitude to those who have served and those currently serving in our nation's armed forces. From World War II to Iraq and Afghanistan, these brave men and women and their families have made tremendous sacrifices to defend our nation and its freedoms. One way we can show our appreciation is to recognize these sacrifices and do so in a timely manner. As the Department of the Army considers Orville Lemke's eligibility for a Purple Heart, I will continue to assist Mr. Lemke's family in any way that I am able."

Rasmusson says if her father is honored with the Purple Heart, she thinks he'd know it.

While on the flight Lemke told a documentary film crew, "Lot of people paid a big price for our  freedom that we got today.  And we've got to keep on paying the price to keep the freedom."

Lemke's family, Dean, and the crew from Stars and Stripes presented a resolution to the Ozaukee County Board today.  The measure passed unanimously.  It urges legislation to expedite military honors for veterans over the age of 85 or who are terminally ill.  It's been named after Orville Lemke.