Gilpin veteran awarded medal after 67 years

| Monday, July 16, 2012, 12:29 a.m.

Cpl. Ronald Frank had celebrated his 20th birthday just four months before he was seriously injured in World War II when a German plane dropped a bomb in front of his convoy.

"Our driver swerved and our vehicle went over the hill, almost into the river," said Frank, 87, of Gilpin. "Every time we would hit a bump, I would go with it, I would just rise up. But this time I went up and didn't come back down. I flew catty-corner across the truck."

Frank suffered a back injury and severe contusions over most of his body when he was thrown from the vehicle. He later learned that three others in the truck had been killed and the remaining 14 were wounded.

He never sought a Purple Heart, a medal awarded to soldiers injured by enemy fire during combat. At that time, seeking the honor meant the soldier's family was notified, and Frank didn't want his parents to know he was hurt.

More than six decades after the incident, Frank's granddaughter Army Maj. Kim Ferguson, 35, fought back tears as she presented the medal to her "pap" in a surprise ceremony after Sunday services at First Baptist Church in Leechburg.

"I grew up looking at all his medals," said Ferguson, formerly of Allegheny Township, now stationed at Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, Col. "I would take them out of the box and I would stare at them, and I kept thinking, 'Wow, my grandpap's a hero.' "

She works as a personnel officer in the Army, and her duties include processing awards.

"When I was in Afghanistan, I'm processing all these Purple Hearts, and I started thinking ... why doesn't he have one?"

She started doing research in March 2011 to document that Frank had been injured during combat. She received the medal in the mail last week. She found papers showing he was evacuated from the crash site to a mobile Army hospital in Germany, then transferred by train to another mobile Army hospital, near Cherbourg, France.

Before that he had suffered smaller injuries, when shrapnel hit his right hand and above his left eye. Both times he refused to be sent to the battalion aid station for treatment.

"No way would I take a Purple Heart for a little injury," Frank said. "I wouldn't accept it because of some of the guys I've seen -- they either got killed or they got wounded real, real bad, with their stomachs hanging out, their legs blown off."

Frank still isn't sure he deserves the honor, but said it meant a lot to him that his granddaughter presented the medal to him.

Nino Trunzo, 88, also of Gilpin, a medic who treated Frank at the Army hospital, attended the ceremony. The two had kept in touch since meeting in 1945.

"We went around and we got their pamphlets (in the medic tents) and we found out what happened to them and their information." Trunzo said.

"I remember picking his up and it had Leechburg on it and I asked him if he knew where Vandergrift was, because that's where I was from," Trunzo recalled. "This (honor) is long overdue for him."

Frank was drafted into the Army at age 18 and sent to England, where he joined the 9th Division as an infantryman. In his 2 12 years of service, he landed on Utah Beach on D-Day and helped liberate the city of Cherbourg.

In 2010, Frank received the French Legion of Honor medal, the country's most distinguished recognition for soldiers and civilians. He also earned the Bronze Star and the Distinguished Unit Badge.

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