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Wendy Reuer, Published January 27 2012

World War II veteran receives Purple Heart nearly 70 years later

MOORHEAD - Jim Liedahl sat quietly on stage looking at his hands. He had been waiting for this moment for nearly 70 years.

So, when Dilworth VFW Commander Jason Hicks bellowed, “Sergeant, front and center,” the 87-year-old Liedahl jumped to his feet and stood at attention.

Liedahl served as a U.S. Army infantryman during World War II, from 1941 to 1945. At a ceremony at the Clay County Veterans Service Office on Friday, Hicks presented Liedahl with 16 medals, including a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for bravery.

“There was a shortage of medals and a shortage of metal, so quite often what happened was our World War II guys came home with a promise but not the medals,” Clay County Veterans Service Officer Tom Figliuzzi said.

Liedahl, of Moorhead, was wounded by a Japanese hand grenade while in the South Pacific, earning him the Purple Heart.

He was hesitant to describe his war experience, saying, “We just did what we were supposed to do, what we were told to do.”

Shortly after his return from the war, Liedahl first applied to receive his medals. He was told the medals were sent, but he never received them.

“They refused him his medals after that, and he was just disappointed,” Figliuzzi said.

Then, about a year ago, Liedahl mentioned the medal woes to Figliuzzi and office assistant Jennifer Williams while visiting the Veterans Service Office. They also ran into federal hesitation.

“It was more difficult than it ever should have had to be. It started to get a little bit edgy at the very end and then we said, ‘OK, enough is enough. This man is a World War II veteran. This is his age, and he deserves to have his medals,’ ” Figliuzzi said.

Figliuzzi said Liedahl would have been happy to just receive the medals, but with all the effort to finally get them, a ceremony was in order.

Volunteers at the Veterans Service Office also pitched in their own time and money to build an oak showcase for the medals, which was presented to Liedahl on Friday.

“It’s great to have him get the recognition he deserves,” said his son, Kevin Liedahl.

Liedahl, who is widowed, was surprised his two sons were able to attend Friday’s ceremony.

“I had no idea,” Liedahl said. “It’s kind of overwhelming.”

It also became overwhelming for Moorhead Mayor Mark Voxland. He was moved to tears when he stood to speak to Liedahl.

Voxland’s father also served during World War II.

“We lost a lot of folks that went overseas and never came back, but we had a lot of folks that did come back and they made the community what it is today,” Voxland said. “All I can say is thank you.”

Readers can reach Forum reporter Wendy Reuer at (701) 241-5530