Colonel uses his retirement ceremony to honor World War II veteran

Colorado Springs, CO

As originally submitted by Major Glenn P. Richard II in January 2015, edited by Citizen Airman magazine and published in Citizen Airman (February 2015):

from Staff Reports
Air Force Reserve Command Public Affairs

1/28/2015 - Citizen Airman/Feb. 2015 -- The commander of a Colorado Air Force Reserve unit chose to use his retirement ceremony to secretly honor a World War II Army veteran for his service in Europe.
Everything appeared to be routine as a crowd gathered to say goodbye to Col. Steven T. Liddy, commander of the Reserve National Security Space Institute at Peterson Air Force Base, Colorado, during his retirement ceremony Dec. 7, Pearl Harbor Day, at the Air Force Academy. Shortly, after the ceremony began, Liddy turned the focus of attention from himself to Uwe G. Grapengeter, a German immigrant who he had met less than a year earlier.
Prior to the ceremony, Liddy had arranged to present the Bronze Star to Grapengeter in recognition of his service during the war. Army Brig. Gen. Robert P. Walters Jr. was on hand to present the medal. The only other people who knew about the presentation were Grapengeter's family and the ceremony staff.
Liddy met Grapengeter in January 2014 at a Coast Guard Auxiliary meeting in Denver. Grapengeter had joined the auxiliary in 1977 and is still active in the organization. The two struck up a conversation about Grapengeter's military career. Based on the conversation, Liddy believed his new friend's military records were incomplete, so he asked for permission to help get them updated. Initially, Grapengeter resisted, but he eventually agreed to give Liddy access to his records.
Grapengeter was born in Hamburg, Germany, in 1925. His father immigrated to the United States in 1927, settling in Elizabeth, New Jersey. A year later, his mother brought him and his sister to the United States.
He graduated from high school in 1944 and in June of that year was drafted into the Army. On Christmas Eve, Grapengeter shipped out to England aboard a British steamer. As a member of Gen. George S. Patton's 3rd Army, he participated in the Battles of the Ardennes and Rhine Valley, and the Central Europe Campaign.
Grapengeter heard that a colonel was looking for an orderly, so he applied, and was selected, for the job. He only held the position for two weeks before he was selected to serve with the Tactical Military Government. His knowledge of the German language made him a valuable member of the organization.
After Germany's surrender, Grapengeter had the choice of going home to the United States or remaining in Germany with occupation forces. If he went home, he figured he would be sent to the Pacific theater to fight the Japanese, so he decided to stay put and help establish permanent government offices in county seats.
Working as part of a small group of government liaisons, Grapengeter developed good working relationships with local town officials and played a major role in setting up new communication protocols and health services.
He was discharged in June 1946 and returned to New Jersey. While studying engineering at Farley Dickinson Junior College, Grapengeter and several of his friends decided to join the Naval Reserve. Ultimately, he married, and he and his wife raised three children. He moved to Colorado in 2004.
While working to update Grapengeter's military records, Liddy came to believe his new friend's service was worthy of the Bronze Star. He submitted a package to the Army, which agreed with Liddy. The Army issued an order authorizing the medal, along with the Bronze Star citation, on Oct. 22.
Liddy wanted the award presentation ceremony to be special. So, he decided to use his own retirement ceremony to honor Grapengeter's service. He secretly made all of the arrangements. As Walters came forward and began reading the order, the crowd of more than 150 people let out a collective gasp, and Grapengeter was visibly touched by the recognition of a grateful nation.

(Information for this article provided by Major Glenn P. Richard II, chief of the Advanced Courses Branch, Headquarters Reserve National Security Space Institute at Peterson AFB.)

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