MLive/Grand Rapids Press: Purple Heart, Bronze Star presented to family of WWII veteran

Cheryl Heinrich stood nervously at the front of the room, waiting to receive the nine military medals, including the Purple Heart, on behalf of her father. 

The emcee described each award, and the honor and sacrifice each stood for. Heinrich's hands shook as U.S. senator Gary Peters passed her the awards one by one. 

"I'm very proud of him, to know that my dad served and was able to get the medals," Heinrich said. "It's too bad he wasn't able to get them himself or if he did (receive medals), whatever happened to them."

The old records that would describe Frederick Ash's heroic military actions and the status of the medals were destroyed by fire decades ago.

Frederick Ash was born and raised in West Michigan. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in the spring of 1942 at Fort Custer - shortly after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. He served as an infrantryman in the European Theater during World War II. 

Following his honorable discharge in 1945, he returned to West Michigan and started a family. He worked as a commercial fisherman in Saugatuck, and was killed in a fishing accident in the 1950s. Heinrich was only 4 years old at the time of her father's death. 

"I don't remember my dad," Heinrich said. "It's funny, but I do remember him in his casket and touching his hand. Then I can remember telling my momma he was cold. Other than that there wasn't a whole lot I could tell you about my dad, only what I was told by family that knew him."

Unfortunately, all records of Ash's service were destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. Due to the fire, records regarding the extent of Ash's actions, including those that earned him the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, are no longer available. 

When Heinrich reached out to Peters' office about the awards, she didn't have a lot of information. They worked together to secure all of the medals to honor her father's service. 

Peters said the fact Ash received awards like the Bronze Star means he demonstrated heroism and performed in a tough situation. 

"So although we don't know the details, it's still an incredibly meaningful experience for the family," Peters said. 

Peters serves on the Senate Armed Services and Homeland Security committees. 

After receiving all of the medals, Heinrich and her granddaughter Brittnie Keely-Castro held them together. 

"Grandma, what are we going to do with all of these?" she said.

Heinrich said she plans to get a case for the medals.

The following is a list of all the awards Frederick Ash received, and their respective meanings: 

  • The Bronze Star Medal: Awarded to members of the military who distinguish themselves through bravery, act of merit, or meritorious service. The medal additionally recognizes the difficulties infantrymen were forced to endure under conditions of extreme discomfort and close personal combat with the enemy.
  • The Purple Heart: One of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to a member of the armed forces. The Purple Heart is awarded in the name of the president to those wounded or killed while serving.
  • Good Conduct Medal: One of the oldest military awards awarded to the successful completion of three consecutive years of honorable and faithful service.
  • Presidential Unit Citation: Awarded to units who demonstrate such heroism, in action, against an armed enemy.
  • American Campaign Medal: Awarded to service members within the American Theater between Dec. 7, 1941 and March 2, 1946 under permanent assignment outside the continental limits of the United States.
  • European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and Bronze Star Attachment: In recognition for service in the Armed Forces between the following dates, between Dec. 7, 1941 and March 2, 1946, or military service in the European Theater.
  • World War II Victory Medal: Awarded for service between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946 and in recognition of the victory during World War II.
  • Combat Infantryman Badge First Award: Awarded to infantrymen who have satisfactorily performed duty while assigned as a member of the infantry special forces unit.
  • The Honorable Service Lapel Button: Awarded to United States military service members who are discharged under honorable conditions during World War II. 

The ceremony was held on Friday, Oct. 27 at the American Legion Boat and Canoe Club.

By:  Bryce Airgood
Source: MLive/Grand Rapids Press