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Decades later, WWII vet receives discharge and medals

TOGETHER AT LAST — Howard Gunsolus, surrounded by his family, received his military discharge papers and medals he earned during WWII, almost 70 years after he earned those accolades. From left: Tony Swierkowski, Gail Swierkowski, Gunsolus, Jennifer Hutcherson and Pauline Gunsolus.

SPRINGVILLE — Howard Gunsolus of Cattaraugus fought in World War II, but never received his official discharge papers or the medals he earned in recognition of his service, until now. On Sept. 20, the 90-year-old veteran was presented with those honors in a Prisoner of War/Missing In Action ceremony by his granddaughter, Jennifer Hutcherson.

Hutcherson grew up in Springville and, after she graduated from Springville-Griffith Institute in 1990, joined the United States Air Force, following in her grandfather’s military footsteps. She is now the secretary of protocol for the secretary of defense, stationed at the Pentagon.

ALL IN THE FAMILY — Howard Gunsolus’ granddaughter Jennifer Hutcherson now serves in the United States Air Force, following in her grandfather’s footsteps.

After working last year’s POW/MIA ceremony, Hutcherson thought her grandfather might be a candidate to participate.

“We talked about his military service and visiting the Pentagon, so he was extended an invitation from the Pentagon to the ceremony,” she said.

Gunsolus, who was joined by Hutcherson’s parents, Gail and Tony Swierkowski, traveled to the capital for a long weekend, during which he received a tour of the Pentagon and visited the World War II Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial and Arlington Cemetery.

“He really wanted to see the tomb of the unknown soldier and changing of the guard,” Hutcherson said. “We were lucky and he got to see it all!”

The veteran also met Chuck Hagel, secretary of defense, but the surprises didn’t end there.

MEETING MAN TO MAN — Howard Gunsolus of Cattaraugus shook hands with Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel during his visit to the Pentagon on Sept. 20. Photos submitted by Gail Swierkowski.

“When talking about his military service, he said he never received his medals, so I got a copy of his discharge orders and put together a shadow box with his medals,” Hutcherson said. “After the ceremony, we presented my grandfather with a shadow box of his medals he earned from the war, but were never presented. He was all smiles and shocked when I presented him with his medals!”

Each year, the United States National POW/MIA Recognition Day is observed across the nation on the third Friday of September. National POW/MIA Recognition Day is not a federal public holiday in the United States, but it is a national observance.

At the national ceremony, Gen. Martin Dempsey delivered a speech thanking those who attended the ceremony and calling for a continued commitment to remembering those who were lost in combat and those who remain missing in action.

“Deeply rooted in each of us is a desire to make a difference. To live a life that outlasts us and to make life a little better for those who come after us,” Dempsey said. “Thousands of American prisoners of war, who suffered untold atrocities and the more than 83,000 Americans still missing – made a difference.”

With Hutcherson, Hagel, the Swierkowskis and Gunsolus looking on, Dempsey reflected on the military’s promise “to never leave the comrade.

“Today, as we fly the familiar black and white flag across our country, it’s not only a symbol to remember the POW and MIA community. It’s a charge – to keep faith with every prisoner of war, those still missing in action, their families and our military community, to remain undaunted by time and undeterred by challenges ... to not call our missing complete, not until our family is whole again.”

Hutcherson said she was happy she could make that happen, not only as part of her military service, but as part of her family. For Gunsolus, his military record is finally whole again – and his family is, too.


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