Bloomington veteran, 90, receives Purple Heart

purple heart presentation
Lt. Col. Joe Sharkey of the Minnesota National Guard, left, presents a Purple Heart to Ed Paasch March 11 in his Bloomington home. Paasch was 18 when he was injured during World War II, but never received a Purple Heart during or after his military service. (Sun Current staff photo by Mike Hanks)

It may not have been that important to Ed Paasch, but if nothing else, it meant something to his family.

Paasch, 90, received a Purple Heart last week in recognition of his U.S. Army service during World War II. More than 70 years after he was injured, he received the belated recognition with his wife, children and grandchildren gathered for the presentation.

His story is not unique. He was injured during the end of the war and didn’t receive a Purple Heart in recognition of it. His daughter, Kathy Leighton of St. Louis Park, surmises that it wasn’t that important to him after the fact. Paasch suggested as much upon receiving it in his Bloomington home on March 11. Having been on the battlefields during the Central Europe and Rhineland campaigns, he noted that his injured knee, caused by shrapnel, is reminder enough of his wartime service.

So what took so long? The belated presentation was the result of Leighton and her brother’s effort. Not every soldier ended up receiving the medal during or after the war, which is given to military personnel injured or killed while serving. The families of soldiers who died in battles were the first to be honored, Leighton noted.

With so many Purple Hearts being issued during and after World War II, Paasch never received his, whatever be the reason. He received his share of medals and ribbons for his military service, but Paasch has never been one to talk a lot about his military service, or about the Purple Heart he didn’t receive, according to his daughter.

Paasch enlisted in the Army at age 16 in December 1943. His brother, two years older, had enlisted in the Navy, and Paasch lied about his age in order to enlist in the Army. Paasch was far from the first to do so, and he was motivated in part as a way to escape his difficult childhood in northern Minnesota, Leighton said.

His father had died when he was 3, and he had struggled in school throughout his life. War may not have been appealing, but it was an escape a difficult childhood, Leighton explained.

Paasch was 18 years old when he was injured in 1945. His military service could have ended that year, as he was released at the end of the war. But he re-enlisted the next day, continuing to serve through January 1947, according to Leighton.

Despite his war injury, his incomplete education and difficulty with reading, Paasch built a life for himself and raised his family in the Twin Cities.

“He was able to work hard and support our family,” Leighton recalled.

Never one to talk much about the war, it has only been in recent years that Leighton has learned about her father’s military service as a member of the 69th Infantry Division. Leighton scaled back her employment to part-time three years ago, allowing her to spend a day each week with her parents. She also carried on with the work that her brother had started, attempting to secure a Purple Heart for her father.

Enlisting the assistance of U.S. Rep. Erik Paulsen’s office, Leighton received a call a few weeks ago, notifying her the paperwork had been completed. It was then a matter of where and when the Purple Heart would be presented, Leighton explained.

“I thought this would never happen,” she said, noting that her father has experienced health setbacks in recent months.

Although her father isn’t one to smile frequently, Leighton noticed that Paasch smiled more than a few times during last week’s presentation by Lt. Col. Joe Sharkey of the Minnesota National Guard.

Seeing his contribution to the World War II effort recognized all these years later seemed to affect Paasch in a positive way, Leighton noted. “I think it really healed him in a certain way.”

 

Ed wears the same hate
During the March 11 Purple Heart presentation, Paasch wore the same hat he wore during his Army days more than seven decades earlier. (Submitted photo)