WWII vet's medals a painful reminder
It's not that Andrew Iski doesn't appreciate the medals he's been waiting to receive for more than 65 years; the 91-year-old veteran of World War II just prefers that his family — daughters Andrea Diealt and Patty Phillips, son David and his six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren — have them.
“I don't want them,” he said Friday, after receiving the Bronze Star, a new Purple Heart and a half-dozen other medals. “I want no parts of anything military, no Purple Heart or nothing. I don't want no parts of it, just for the grandkids and everybody to know (about) grandpap.”
The medals would resonate as a source of pride for many, but for Iski they also bring up painful memories.
“Memories that never go out of you, that's the trouble,” he said. “They never go out of you; it stays in. My three soldiers I had killed in my squad, they'll never leave me.”
Diealt still has the original Purple Heart her father was awarded after taking a German machine gun bullet in the knee on March 25, 1945.
The other medals he earned during three European combat campaigns as a member of the 9th Armored Division — a Combat Infantry Badge, WWII Victory Medal, Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and rifle and submachine gun Army Marksmanship Qualification Badges — were finally awarded by U.S. Rep. Tim Murphy, R-Upper St. Clair, during Friday's ceremony in the chapel of Westmoreland Manor.
While Iski is confined to a wheelchair now, his memory of the war and his injury remain sharp.
“I was in the Battle of the Bulge. My oldest daughter, she was born Christmas Day (1944), and our fighting in that battle started December 22,” he recalled. “I was waiting to die, and she was being born.”
Three months later when he was injured, Iski didn't have his first-aid kit. He had used it to help another soldier even though doing so was against Army recommendations.
“I used it on another soldier, which you're not supposed to do,” he said “So another boy had to use his (on me). I begged him not to use his. He did it. He wouldn't listen to me. He went and patched me up.”
“I never thought I'd walk again at 23 years old,” he said. “But here I am today.”
He was able to walk again, eventually, but in the immediate aftermath he faced the harrowing prospect of escaping to relative safety in an active war zone without the use of his legs.
“Whenever I got shot, the bullet hit a nerve and I'm paralyzed. I can only crawl on my elbows,” he recalled. “One of our tanks coming up to help us was coming right directly at me... The driver only has a little wee hole to see, so I don't know if he sees me or not. I have to make a decision to either crawl left or crawl right. I crawl left and maybe 5 or 6 yards to me, he cut to my right.”
Recalling his war memories with 13-year-old Manor volunteer Gage Backus after the ceremony, Iski downplayed the importance of his service.
“We were at war with Japan and Germany at the same time. I was 20 years old, I figured I needed to be a soldier for my country, so I went and enlisted,” Iski told him. “... It's your duty. That's the way I looked at it.”
“It wasn't just your duty,” Backus reminded him. “You made a difference.”
Greg Reinbold is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-459-6100, ext. 2913, or firstname.lastname@example.org.