PIQUA — As the old adage goes, it’s “better late than never,” and Robert “Red” Bomhard would wholeheartedly agree.
The 95-year-old Piqua native recently received several honors for his service in World War II — more than seven decades after his discharge.
“I went to the Army at 20, just after my birthday,” Bomhard recalled. “I was with the 1303rd Engineer General Service Regiment.
“I originally went to Louisiana, to Camp Claiborne, for basic training, then I was assigned to Camp Ellis in Illinois as a company clerk.”
Bomhard was fortunate in that he “didn’t see too much fighting,” though he experienced a few air raids.
“Going through Europe, I was always six or seven miles behind the front line,” he said, adding that he traveled through countries including France, Germany and Luxembourg during The Battle of the Bulge, as well to the Philippines and Japan.
Ironically, the greatest conflict he encountered was with a fellow American in Cherbourg.
“The guy pointed a rifle at my head. I still don’t know what he was so mad about,” Bomhard said, chuckling.
After his discharge in 1945, Bomhard settled into civilian life, working first at Hobart Manufacturing, then at Burroughs as a repairman, retiring after 30 years. He married and enjoyed bowling, hunting and fishing with his wife, Margie, until her passing in 1988.
While he’s not one to seek glory, Bomhard admitted he felt a bit overlooked when local organizations would recognize World War II veterans for their service. So it was with delighted surprise that he opened an official-looking envelope last month bearing a letter of commendation from Gen. Mark A. Milley, 39th Chief of Staff for the U.S. Army.
“I stand in awe and admiration of your service and experience,” the letter begins.
Bomhard experienced his own share of awe and admiration upon reading the praise-filled missive.
“It’s quite an honorable thing to receive from a four-star general,” he said. “I really appreciate it.”
In addition to the letter from Gen. Milley, Bomhard received a certificate and a flag that had been flown over the Pentagon.
Bomhard’s nephew, Doug Lange, who looks in on him regularly, said, “I was impressed. I knew he served in the military, but I didn’t know all the details. I’m very proud of Red and his service.”
It was through another nephew, Keith Lange — by way of Keith’s son-in-law — that word got to Lt. Gen. John M. (Mike) Murray of the U.S. Army, who had a hand in recognizing Bomhard.
“My little brother, Matt, lives in Anna, and reached out to me. He became award of Red because Keith is his father-in-law. He asked if there was anything the Army did as an institution to recognize veterans and that’s what got me involved,” Murray said.
Though he got the ball rolling to honor Bomhard, Murray gives most of the credit to Gen. Milley. “Being recognized by Mark Milley, the highest-ranking officer over 1.03 million service (people), is quite an achievement,” Murray said.
“Red is a special veteran, being a WWII veteran. Gen. Milley is a history fanatic, especially World War II because his father fought on Iwo Jima,” Murray noted. “He’s always going out of his way to recognize veterans, especially the ones who served during wartime. There are so few World War II veterans remaining, and I saw this as an opportunity to do something special for Red, so I approached Gen. Milley and his answer was, ‘Absolutely!’”
Murray said recognition of veterans has improved in recent years, but recommended that people go beyond just saying, “Thank you for your service.”
“Saying ‘thank you’ is helpful; (veterans) usually get that and a handshake. But asking them, ‘Are you interested in telling me your stories?’ would go a long way. It’s a very unique experience,” he said. “Most veterans would love to tell their stories.”
Reach Belinda M. Paschal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (937) 451-3341