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Bronze star for wounded WWII vet

Pfc. Clarence Wallaert was shot in the hip by a German sniper while fighting against the German Winter Line in Italy Dec. 30, 1943. Wallaert bandaged his own wound and provided 12 hours of automatic rifle support for his Army comrades advancing into the Liri Valley−the “gateway to Rome.”

Nearly 66 years later, Wallaert, 86, was awarded the Bronze Star Medal at Scott Air Force Base, Ill., for his meritorious actions during World War II.

Wallaert’s son−in−law, retired Air Force Col. Jim Harper, attended the ceremony at Military Surface Deployment and Distribution Command Headquarters where he works, along with other members of Wallaert’s family.

“It was such an awesome and humbling experience to have (Maj.) Gen. (James) Hodge meet with the family and then award his medal,” Harper said. “My father−in−law said that he was ‘awed’ by the ceremony.”

Harper said the award was delayed for decades because Wallaert and his family did not realize he was authorized to receive the award until recently.

“It was unknown that Army regulations authorized the Bronze Star medal for WWII recipients if they had been awarded the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman’s Badge,” Harper said.

Wallaert previously received both decorations and his Bronze Star request was filed March 16. “It’s one of those gems uncovered over time that showed he was authorized to receive it (the Bronze Star) when it was unknown to him prior to recently,” Harper said.

Hodge, SDDC commanding general, presented Wallaert with his Bronze Star during the ceremony last week. “I was as happy as I could possibly be to be involved in the recognition of one of our WWII veterans,” said Hodge, whose father is also a decorated World War II veteran.

“It was close to me personally,” he said. “You could certainly see his pride during the ceremony.”

Friday, back in Michigan, Wallaert said via phone that he was surprised by the large crowd at the ceremony. “I was really overwhelmed,” Wallaert said. “I expected maybe one person to be there but they had the whole room (filled). I was just doing my duty and I didn’t expect all the praise.”

Wallaert served as a Browning Automatic Rifleman with the Army’s K Company, 3rd Battalion, 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th division, from February 1943 until January 1944.

Wallaert and Company K received strong combat resistance from the hills of Mount Raimo in Italy, Dec. 30, 1943. The company had just cleared the town of Venafro and was fighting to move forward and drive German soldiers out of Southern Italy when then − Pfc. Wallaert was wounded but continued to provide automatic rifle support for his company.

Before his exceptional actions in Italy, Wallaert served in North Africa and Sicily. After being wounded in Italy he was transferred to a military hospital in Tunisia to recover and was then transferred back to the United States.

Back in the U.S., Wallaert was assigned to Fort Sheridan, Ill., on the north side of Chicago. He was discharged from active service on Dec. 7, 1945.

After being discharged, he worked as a mixer for the Sunshine Biscuit Company in Saginaw, Mich., then on a General Motors assembly line. Wallaert married his wife Geraldine on May 1, 1948. The couple has six children.

In 1995, Harper, went to Venafro, Italy, and took pictures of the war site. He shared the photos with his father−in−law who recalled the battleground.

“He remembered well the terrain and which mountain he was wounded on,” Harper said.

Of the Bronze Star Award ceremony, Harper said it too would become another memory for his father−in−law. “(The ceremony) became a significant life event for my father−in−law,” he said, “and I am sure it is one that will provide him many fond memories throughout his life.”

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