“It’s always an honor to be among a true hero. We often use that word hero too loosely, and we hang that title on movie stars, sports stars and television stars. I think that really dilutes the value of that title,” said retired Lt. Col. Ron White, local representative and military liaison for Rep. J. Randy Forbes (R-4th.) “But I know that this gentleman is definitely not a misuse of the title hero.”
Lt. Col. White was speaking of retired Pfc. Hiram “Pat” McAllister, who received the Bronze Star during a ceremony last week at the Chester Senior Apartments. Mr. McAllister was receiving the Medal after his act of heroism some 67 years ago during the Battle of the Bulge.
About 60 of Pat’s friends, family and area residents joined Forbes for the presentation.
The Bronze Star may be awarded for combat heroism or for meritorious service in combat. The award is not presented to airmen but for infantrymen at war when the U.S. is not the aggressor.
The 85-year-old McAllister fought in the Battle of the Bulge and was later taken prisoner by the German army during WWII.
“Ralph Waldo Emerson wrote that the characteristic of heroism was persistency. That some men, any man can be great on a day or generous one day or be brave one day,” Forbes said. “But Pat hasn’t just done that, he had been persistently a hero. Anyone who would go and fight the way he did; have your feet literally frozen out there and have to be strapped on the end of a jeep and be carried to the hospital. They didn’t send him home, or sing him a song, they sent him right back out into the field again.”
A native of Rochester, New York, Pat was stationed in Heidelberg, Germany for years after the war. He married his first wife, Anita, a German woman. His children, Gary McAllister and Monica Clark were born in Heidelberg as well. He spent a lifetime career in the military, which took him to Korea, back to the States and then on to Africa and to Fort Lee where he retired in 1967.
“Wow, it was totally amazing,” said Gary McAllister, the oldest of the elder McAllister. “To see it [awarding the medal] happen after all these years, is something.”
Gary’s HVAC technician, Ken Aikman, was checking the McAllister’s home unit when he saw a display case of Pat’s medals. Being in the army reserve, he told Gary’s wife that if Pat had some of the medals he saw, he deserved the Bronze Star. Gary’s wife Patricia began working on getting her father-in-law’s medal with the help of Pat’s second wife Jackie. It wasn’t too difficult to convince the military, with the help of Forbes, to award the Bronze, but it took some time.
According to the U.S. Department of Defense the American forces suffered 89,500 casualties including 19,000 killed. Pat told the story during the award ceremony of how he fought the German’s at the Battle of the Bulge and was eventually captured.
“We fought through France, Belgium, Holland and right through to Germany,” Pat said. “We were strafed with fire [during the battle] and I had my pack right next to me and it got hit, but I didn’t because I was way down in that foxhole.”
After Pat and his band of brothers moved into Germany from Ardennes, Belgium, they encountered a machine gun placement in an igloo. Pat and his compatriots were pinned down and the German soldiers told them to give up. Pat’s squad refused, eventually taking out the machine gunner.
Dressed in white uniforms to camouflage them in the snow, Pat and 10 other troops marched on to their fate, his feet freezing so bad from having been in the water soaked foxhole, that he had to be evacuated to a hospital for three days, as Pat put it, to thaw out. As Forbes said during his presentation, he didn’t go home, but went back to his unit.
“A week later,” Pat said. “Eleven of us got captured. We were on patrol and it was Kapaun, Germany, [where we were captured.] They put us on a boat and we crossed the Rheine River. I said “I hope this dosen’t sink because I can’t swim.”
Pat and his unit were led to a small room with only straw on the floor to sleep before being marched toward a P.O.W. camp after the bombing of Berlin began. His unit was eventually picked up on the road by the Red Cross after the German surrender.
“Some say this [Bronze Star] is just a symbol,” Forbes said. “But it’s not just a symbol to the Pat McAllisters who fought for the freedom of this country. It’s about freedom itself.”