POLAND — Except for the ball cap he wore, it was difficult to tell that Leo Gratz had served his country in two major wars, let alone that he also received at least a pair of distinguished awards for his service.
“I was a navigator on a B-29 (Superfortress heavy bomber), and I served in the South Pacific,” Gratz, 98, of Poland, remembered.
The longtime veteran had served from January 1943 to June or July 1946 in the U.S. Air Force. For his service in World War II and the Korean War, Gratz, who reached the rank of second lieutenant, received the Distinguished Flying Cross Award and a Bronze Star.
He also was the recipient of the three A’s: accolades, appreciation and applause — all of which he got in abundance during the 93rd annual Poland Memorial Day Parade and program Monday, for which he was a grand marshal.
Conducting the somber event in Riverside Cemetery was the Poland-based Sons of The American Legion Mahoning Valley Squadron Post 15.
After his time in the military, Gratz worked as an accountant for the former Youngstown Sheet & Tube Co., recalled his daughter, Patty Kalasky of Struthers.
“He didn’t talk a lot about the military, at least when I was growing up, but I’m very proud of what he’s done,” said Kalasky, who attended the ceremony also with her brother, Jerry Gratz Jr. He served about three years as a U.S. Army Airborne Ranger, Kalasky continued.
Jeff Vrabel Sr., a Sons of The American Legion’s national vice commander, told the crowd of veterans, elected officials, parade members and others that most who answered the call to serve did so to help the nation maintain a strong defense. They also desired to assist fellow comrades, fight for America’s core values of God, family and country, and to see children grow up in a strong and free nation. Vrabel explained.
“They are the guardians of our freedoms,” he said.
Vrabel also read aloud the names of the 11 U.S. Marines, one sailor and one soldier killed in a terrorist attack in August when a suicide bomber detonated explosives at a Kabul airport gate as U.S. troops were searching for evacuees preparing to flee. The attack killed at least 170 others.
He also asked attendees to pause for one minute beginning at 3 p.m. Monday to honor those who made the ultimate sacrifice as part of a National Moment of Remembrance.