|Birth: ||Apr. 12, 1922|
|Death: ||Apr. 21, 2007|
Leo J. Chermack, 85, Barron, Wis., died Saturday, April 21, 2007, at his home.
He was born April 12, 1922, in the Town of Oak Grove, Barron County, the son of John and Matilda (Vinopal) Chermack. He graduated from Barron High School in 1941 and worked at his brother Ed's machine shop.
On April 5, 1943, he entered the Army Air Corps. He was a prisoner of war from Sept. 26, 1944, to May 10, 1945, in Germany during WWII. On Oct. 12, 1945, he was discharged with honors after nine months as a P.O.W.
He married Naomi Dostal on April 25, 1950, at Barron. They lived in the same house in Barron, raising their seven children. Leo worked for the City of Barron, delivered ice cream and returned to his bother's machine shop for a while before settling on selling insurance until retirement.
He battled cancer on and off since being diagnosed in 1981.
He loved bowling and working in his wood shop, making many wonderful treasures for his family and friends. He also loved sitting around the table with his wife and children, just enjoying life and of course all the story telling and jokes!
Leo was a member of St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Barron.
Surviving in addition to his wife are sons, Tom (Cathy) of Eau Claire, Bob (Crystal) of Prairie Farm and Brian (Bonnie) of Barron; daughters, Diane (Gerald) Henning of Barron, Karen (Donel) Kolba of Clear Lake, Cindy (Craig) Allram of Clayton and Betty (Brent) Borgen of Barron; 17 grandchildren; seven great-grandchildren; a twin brother, Rudy (Eleanor) Chermack of Seattle, Wash.; and a sister, Alice Paulsrud of St. Louis Park, Minn.
His parents and brothers, Harry and Ed, preceded him in death.
Services were held at 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, April 24, from St. Joseph's Catholic Church, Father Patrick Hardy and Deacon James Dennis officiating, with burial at Wayside Cemetery, Barron. Barron American Legion Post #212 and VFW Post #8338 accorded military honors.
Visitation was held 4-8 p.m. Monday from Rausch-Rockman Funeral Home, Barron, and an hour prior to services at the church Tuesday. [Obtained online on 27 Apr 2007 from news-shield.com.]
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Purple Heart finally credited to deceased war veteran
Although it arrived years after his death, the distinction of a Purple Heart medal has finally been granted to a Barron veteran's family.
Naomi Chermack said that her late husband, Leo, had been asking about the Purple Heart before his passing. Leo had anticipated receiving the medal in recognition of the injuries he had sustained during a WWII bombing run. The veteran died 2 years ago never seeing his Purple Heart.
"Well, he asked for it when he was living yet," Naomi said. "You know, he asked and they sent him some medals, but they said they couldn't find the Purple Heart."
Although the question of the missing medal had been lingering in the background for years, it wasn't until it was time to fill out Leo's military service grave marker that the issue resurfaced. On a special grave marker (separate from the headstone), an entry can be made on the brass plate indicating that the deceased veteran was awarded a Purple Heart. However, the frustrating years of waiting almost caused Naomi to give up and have the marker completed at Wayside Cemetery in Barron without mention of the medal. With the support of family, though, the Chermacks decided to revisit the mystery.
Technicalities were holding up Leo's Purple Heart, as it turned out, said grandson-in-law Lloyd Brown.
"When I got to looking at the paperwork, we read one line on there, and it sounded kind of funny," he said.
After double checking the wording, the paperwork was telling the family that Leo had received the POW medal but wasn't eligible for the Purple Heart. The problem was a lack of evidence that Leo had been injured while in combat, rather than before or after his military service.
Lloyd said he remembered that someone in the family had once said they had documentation that linked Leo's back trouble to injuries sustained when his plane was shot down by enemy fire from the ground.
"[Naomi] had mentioned that he had back problems his whole life from the military time on because he claimed he hit the ground so hard that it blew his boots off," Lloyd said. "But his plane was shot down by military flak, so if that happens, that's an injury due to shooting, and that's how they approached it, I guess."
It was Leo's grandson Jesse Henning that had the critical piece of evidence needed before the Purple Hearth could be awarded, Lloyd said. Leo never spoke much with his seven children about his time as a POW, but he did open up to his grandson about it. Their talks sparked a special interest in the topic with Jesse, and he would later begin to do his own research into the Purple Heart issue. The 2006 Barron Area High School graduate even incorporated his research into some homework projects.
Jesse said that he always had an interest in his grandfather's WWII experiences, and he interviewed Leo on occasion to learn more. He discovered along the way that a man from the Netherlands (the area where Leo's bomber was shot down) was in the process of writing a book that incorporated a story about the belly gunner. For more than a year, Jesse emailed back and forth with the writer oversees and gathered information about the events surrounding the plane crash.
The correspondence bore fruit when Jesse's Netherlands contact found an old, archived report from a local police chief who had witnessed the incident on Sept. 26, 1944. The report included the names of crew members-including Leo-and supplemental information detailed how Leo hurt his back when his parachute opened very late.
This account gave the Chermack family the ammunition they needed for Purple Heart eligibility. A colonel that Lloyd knew through his karate contacts also championed their case.
The Chermacks finally received Leo's Purple Heart just before this past Thanksgiving, after having redoubled their efforts back in July to bring the elusive medal home. Having the hard-fought medal at home brings piece of mind the family, Naomi said.
"Real good feeling about it," she said. "That's one of the highest (medals) you can get."
The honor was befitting of the beloved veteran's life story, Lloyd added.
"Here's a guy who was this tall (relatively short) who went to the military. He was the belly gunner on a bomber who gets shot down and just because of sheer fate manages to get out of the belly before this happens," he said. "Shot down, survives this major catastrophe with a parachute, ends up in a prison camp, ends up on this huge march, survives his whole march, takes notes ... Now, imagine this: If the Germans would have caught him with those notes, he'd be dead. ... Survives the prisoner of war camp, is released from the prisoner of war camp, comes back to the United States, makes this huge family-they've lived in the same house for 50-some years, which you never hear of anymore ... To me, that was phenomenal."
The family now has a folder in which they keep all of Leo's war history materials. In addition to various photographs and emails from the Netherlands, the folder also contains a copy of the diary Leo kept while in the German prison camp system. It documents the evacuation of Camp Tisshaw starting Feb. 6, 1945, detailing the limited amount of food POWs received, the number of miles they walked each day and the kinds of weather conditions that they suffered through on their march. The last entry is from June 18, 1945, and recounts how Leo arrived at a Virginia harbor with other liberated POWs. They were welcomed with a band and a grand supper that included "steak, ice cream and all the trimmings."
With all of the hard work that has gone toward honoring Leo's memory with a Purple Heart, Lloyd said the exercise brought out the best in people.
"For him to get this, even though he passed away, shows me something about America, I guess," Lloyd said. "That there's people out there that really do give a shit-are willing say, 'Let's take a look at this again,' and it means something." [Dec. 26, 2009, Barron New Shield, Barron, WI.]
John William Chermack (1880 - 1965)
Mathilda L Vinople Chermack (1888 - 1981)
Naomi Dostal Chermack (1926 - ____)*
Edward Joseph Chermack (1910 - 1998)*
Harry R. Chermack (1913 - 1988)*
Leo J. Chermack (1922 - 2007)
Maintained by: Stacy (Skemp) Hollmann
Originally Created by: John Christeson
Record added: Oct 03, 2005
Find A Grave Memorial# 11878543