By Ross Markman
It was like a car accident that lasted for three years.
That's how John Kurtz described the time he spent in the Pacific with a rifle in his hand and helmet strapped to his head, a time he wishes to, but can't, erase from his memory.
"Some of this stuff's been going through my head for the last 60 years," he said. "You don't think about it all the time. It's hard to accept. You just go to sleep with it."
Although it won't eliminate the memories of World War II Kurtz lives with every day, something may soothe some of the pain and perhaps even provide closure to six decades of waiting the Purple Heart. Kurtz was to receive the honor, given to soldiers wounded in combat, today in Great Falls.
"It's just a shock. I didn't think I was going to get it. I was just going to forget it," he said. "The Army knew I had it coming. I'm happy about the whole damn thing. I'm surprised as hell."
Kurtz, 81, served five years in the Army, the last three stationed in Guadalcanal. On Nov. 13, 1942, while under enemy fire, shrapnel from a nearby explosion knocked off Kurtz's helmet and caused a concussion.
"We sat there for three days and you couldn't move," he said. "There was shelling everywhere."
Sixty years later, Kurtz is finally being recognized for the injury.
"I've been after the VA for years. I gave 'em all the proof I could," he said.
But the Veterans Administration, Kurtz said, never came through. It was the Army that reviewed his military records and ultimately was responsible for the Purple Heart.
"I went through a lot of papers at home that I had," he said. "And then the Army went through my papers from one end to another."
The process was expedited by U.S. Rep. Denny Rehberg, R-Mont. During his year in office, Rehberg has presented about five medals of honor and Purple Hearts to deserving veterans.
"This government has gotten so large that it doesn't treat people as individuals. That's what I'm trying to do," Rehberg said.
"I've done everything from my own small perspective to try and make every person matter," he added. "We certainly can take our time to honor the people who preserved our liberty."