Medals awarded more than 60 years after 'Marauder' engaged in combat
A World War II hero was recognized on Friday morning when U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster awarded the Bronze Star and other medals posthumously to family members of the late Paul E. Kolp Jr., a member of Merrill's Marauders, during a ceremony held in American Legion Post 51 in Uniontown.
Merrill's Marauders, officially named the 530th Composite Unit, was an Army special operations jungle warfare unit, which fought in the China-Burma-India Theater. The unit became famous for its deep-penetration missions behind Japanese lines, often engaging Japanese forces superior in number.
Shuster, a Hollidaysburg Republican, said it was fitting that the ceremony took place the day after the July 4th holiday when Americans celebrate their freedom, as he presented the medals to family members, including Kolp's daughter Sandra, his son Edward and great-nephew Bryan Smith.
The medals were awarded more than 60 years after Pvt. Kolp's heroic actions in combat.
Shuster said the Bronze Star is the fifth-highest medal awarded for acts of heroism in a combat zone.
“He was a part of Merrill's Marauders, the first special forces unit to penetrate deep behind enemy lines in China and Burma,” Shuster said. “Because of their special training, they succeeded and were a key factor in helping to win World War II. They were superheroes of days gone by.”
During the war, Smith said his great-uncle, a Lemont Furnace native who died on Jan. 12 at age 89, was shot in the shoulder, but it wasn't a life-threatening injury.
“It's just too bad my dad wasn't here today to receive these medals,” said his son Edward Kolp. “But he finally received them after all of these years. We're very proud of him.”
Shuster awarded the following medals to Kolp's family, in order of importance:
• Bronze Star,
• Purple Heart,
• Good Conduct Medal,
• Presidential Unit Citation,
• American Defense Service Medal with one Bronze Service Star,
• American Campaign Medal,
• Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star,
• World War II Victory Medal,
• Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award,
• Honorable Service Lapel Button World War II,
• Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.
After his great-uncle's death, Bryan Smith said he started going through Kolp's medals from World War II and realized that some of the ones he was entitled to receive were not there.
Smith said he contacted the historian from Merrill's Marauders to find out what medals his great-uncle was eligible to receive. He was then referred to the Veterans Affairs Office.
“I was then sent to Congressman Shuster's office and received the paperwork that we needed to fill out,” Smith said.
Smith said he was happy that his great-uncle finally received the recognition that he deserved.
“I feel really good about it,” Smith said.
“I never expected anything like this when I first started checking into the medals. I'm really glad that he is finally getting the recognition that he deserved.”
Sandra Kolp said her father, who was born in February 1923, dropped out of North Union High School in 1939 to enlist in the Army.
When World War II broke out, Kolp was stationed in Panama.
“My father was set to come home when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor,” Kolp said. “(He) didn't come home because they needed him in the Pacific Theater in World War II.”
Kolp was discharged in 1945 after the war ended. He returned to Lemont Furnace where he married his wife, the late Bertha Balchak, who died on June 8 .
The couple had three children, Sandra, Edward and Barbara of Connecticut. They had five grandchildren.
After the war, Kolp worked in a Mt. Braddock glass house and later got a job at the Youngstown Coke Yard. In the 1980s, he retired from his job in the maintenance department at Kennedy Elementary School in the Laurel Highlands School District.
“My father would have really liked this ceremony because he was very proud of his war service,” Kolp said. “And we're very proud of him.”