- The Washington Times - Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Anthony J. Gullace jumped out of a burning B-17 Flying Fortress with an ill-fitting parachute over Nazi Germany in June 1943.

When he pulled the ripcord, “it was like a cannon went off — something happened to my back,” says Mr. Gullace, now 82.

He landed hard in a field, was captured by German troops and forced to help carry the dead bodies of his fellow airmen to a prisoner-of-war camp while being beaten and stoned.

Yesterday Mr. Gullace was awarded a Purple Heart and four other medals at Andrews Air Force Base 60 years after his meritorious actions.

“It’s been a long battle for you to get these medals,” said Brig. Gen. David S. Gray, the installation commander at Andrews, who awarded them to Mr. Gullace.

“We’re finally going to pay back what we should have given you a long time ago.”

The Purple Heart was not immediately given to Mr. Gullace because there was no documentation of his injuries.

In the prison camp, his back injuries worsened, and he developed a debilitating skin disease.

He did not apply for the award until about eight years ago when he learned about his eligibility. Then the award was delayed because military officials disputed his story and the needed paperwork could not be produced.

Dozens of letters later, the military finally agreed with Mr. Gullace.

Gen. Gray said that “bureaucracy, red tape and all those things we hate so much” have been Mr. Gullace’s battle for the last several years.

“It means an awful lot,” Mr. Gullace replied.

The award was founded by George Washington in 1782 and is given to any U.S. soldier wounded in combat.

Mr. Gullace, a former flight engineer and gunner, stood erect as the “Star-Spangled Banner” was played at the ceremony’s outset and he received his medal. His wife of 58 years, Catherine, son Robert, one granddaughter and two great-grandchildren also attended the ceremony.

He gave a short speech thanking his family and friends, including four ex-POWs who attended the ceremony, and cried when he talked about his daughter, Sharon Jackson, who died several years ago of cancer at age 41.

“She was a wonderful girl and she raised two beautiful children,” Mr. Gullace said.

Gen. Gray said that Mr. Gullace’s situation is uncommon but happens too often.

“Some POWs with lost records have had a long delay in receiving some of the medals they sacrificed so much of their personal lives for,” he said.

Mr. Gullace’s plane was shot down on June 25, 1943, on his fifth bombing mission, headed for Hamburg. He was wearing a parachute that did not fit because his usual one was being repacked.

“That was the day I needed it,” he said. Mr. Gullace did not have time to adjust the straps on the new one because an impatient crew rushed him into the plane.

During his two years in the POW camp, his back injury was never diagnosed or treated, and the skin disease — a form of dermatitis — swelled his legs to twice their normal size. He described the limbs as “raw red flesh constantly oozing waterlike fluid.”

On April 30, 1945, Mr. Gullace and his fellow POWs were liberated by the U.S. 13th Armored Division on the Austrian-Bavarian border. When he returned to America his discharge was delayed while the military looked for his records. They were never found, but Mr. Gullace was given an honorable discharge on Oct. 22, 1945.

He returned to his prewar job as a machine operator, but immediately began experiencing back trouble. After six months he quit and found work as a commercial artist. During his 35 years of civilian employment, he worked his way up to publications manager. He retired in 1983.

Mr. Gullace had two discs removed from his lower back in 1980 and had a heart attack in 1991. He continues to have back trouble and visits a chiropractor regularly.

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