Jefferson County veteran presented purple heart
Like many men of his generation, Richard Rasdall Sr. has been reluctant to discuss his experiences in Europe during World War II.
In fact, his daughter, Lori Wunder, says Rasdall only talks once a year about his days as a ball turret gunner in the 8th Army Air Corps. Each Independence Day, the Valley Falls man reminds his family of the day he and other crew members of a B-17 bomber were shot down over the Bay of Biscay off the coast of France.
Last Sunday, a few days before the 58th anniversary of his capture by German soldiers, Rasdall received the Purple Heart and the Prisoner of War medal in a ceremony during a family reunion in Tonganoxie.
"I don't know why this one got lost," Kansas Sen. Sam Brownback, R-Kan., told Rasdall before pinning the medals onto the 76-year-old's left lapel.
Brownback, who was among several people who worked to ensure Rasdall received the medals he earned as a young man, apologized for the delay.
"This is the military equivalent of saying the check's in the mail," the senator said. "This is a great hero for this country."
But Rasdall politely corrected the younger man.
"Speak of me as a survivor, not a hero," he said.
After his plane went into the water on July 4, 1943 the injured Rasdall and his crew were captured by the Germans, who held them for 23 months. The Germans moved their captives several times, and pushed the Americans on a 285-day forced march.
"We lost more Germans then than we did Americans," Rasdall said.
Before Gen. Patton's troops arrived, Rasdall said, he dropped from 185 pounds to less than 115 pounds.
Rasdall's daughter and son-in-law said Rasdall's decision to seek the Order of the Purple Heart for Military Merit was made about 15 years ago. It hasn't been an easy road. Because military records were lost in a 1973 fire in St. Louis, Mo., Rasdall had difficulty proving his story.
But with help from Brownback and two other Kansas senators, Rasdall was finally notified he would receive the medal.
"He's got a file that's this thick of letters," Lori Wunder said, measuring about two inches with her thumb and forefinger. "I'm not kidding you."