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Veteran receives overdue honor

| Saturday, Nov. 10, 2012, 1:12 a.m.
Al Smith from U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's office pins a Purple Heart on World War II veteran John Hazy, whose plane was shot down over Germany in 1944.
John Hazy, 92, received a Purple Heart on Friday. He was in a B-17 bomber that was shot down over Germany in 1944. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Navy veteran Joe Zywan tells about his expereince in the military at an event celebrating veterans at Southwestern Group residential facility in Pleasant Hills on Friday. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News
Veterans, their family members, staff from Southwestern Group residential facility and others remember lost and fallen comrades in a balloon release ceremony at the center on Friday. Cindy Shegan Keeley | Daily News

A local Air Force veteran whose plane was shot down over Germany in 1944 received an overdue honor on Friday.

John Hazy, 94, received the Purple Heart in a ceremony honoring veterans at Southwestern Group senior home in Pleasant Hills, where he lives.

Hazy was one of nine men to parachute to safety after the B-17 they were flying was hit by enemy fire. He escaped the crash, but was captured on the ground and badly beaten by German farmers.

Hazy was rescued from the beating by German soldiers but that led to a 13-month imprisonment in Stalag 17b in Austria that ended when Gen. George Patton liberated the prison camp more than a year later.

“It was my one and only parachute jump,” said Hazy, recalling the incident. He stayed in the Air Force until 1968 but for years didn't think he was eligible for the medal honoring soldiers injured in combat.

He'd survived the beating he took from the farmers and, when he looked into the possibility of applying for the medal in the 1990s, was told he'd need someone to verify the ordeal for the military to review his case.

Years passed and it was only about three months ago that he received a call from a daughter of one of the men with whom he'd served. She was looking for information about her late father. Hazy told the woman about the mission on April 24, 1944, when their plane went down. She told him that her father had often talked to her about the ordeal.

They realized she could give a sworn account of Hazy's actions to the review board based on stories she'd heard from her father.

She did, and it wasn't until three weeks ago that Hazy was notified the military had approved him for the Purple Heart.

Retired Air Force Major Al Smith from U.S. Rep. Mike Doyle's office pinned the medal on Hazy. Hazy also received a folded American flag from U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy's office.

State Rep. Bill Kortz presented Hazy and all veterans in the center with proclamations honoring them for their service.

Veterans' remembrances were at times tearful in what was an emotionally stirring ceremony. Survivors of the Battle of the Bulge, the European and Pacific theaters of World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam were among the men and women recognized.

“Today we recognize your service, your sacrifice and your courage to stand between us and our enemies who wish us and our families harm,” Kortz said.

Veterans took part in a balloon release ceremony to remember their lost and fallen comrades. The names of old friends were fastened to helium-filled balloons and sent skyward in a sunny spot just outside the café area of the residential facility.

Southwestern Group spokeswoman Kathy Dienert said Southwestern was proud to honor the 60 veterans who live on their campus along Lewis Run Road.

“Today we remember all the men and women who've died,” she said. “Today is the day for the deceased, the living and the missing soldiers.”

Eric Slagle is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-664-9161, ext. 1966, or eslagle@tribweb.com.

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