Before Gaye Sundberg died in 2014, she dreamed that one day her husband, World War II veteran Wayne Sundberg, would receive the Purple Heart medal he had clearly earned.
On Wednesday, on their 60th wedding anniversary, Sundberg, now 93, did just that.
In 1944, Staff Sgt. Sundberg, a B-26 turret gunner from Milaca, Minn., was shot down and captured by German forces, suffering shrapnel wounds in the ordeal, then was held as a prisoner of war for nine months before being liberated by Soviet troops at the end of the war.
On Wednesday, U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., whose office helped Sundberg’s family secure the medal, pinned it on him at a ceremony at the Veterans Services Building in St. Paul, according to media reports.
“Wayne, like most soldiers, didn’t serve for the accolades or the attention,” Klobuchar said at the ceremony. “He didn’t stick around the base waiting for his Purple Heart to be awarded. He just went home to Minnesota.”
Sundberg’s son, Mark Sundberg, said that as his father was being discharged, he was told that he was entitled to the medal but would need to wait a couple of days for the paperwork.
“We knew he was a POW and had been hurt in the war, but he never got the medal,” Mark Sundberg said. “We had no proof he was wounded in combat. We had no way to verify he deserved the medal.”
Wayne and Gaye Sundberg lived for many years in Edina. Gaye died in 2014; Wayne now lives in Minneapolis. After they retired, Gaye started to look into her husband’s service history and found that Wayne’s military records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire.
After his mother died, Mark Sundberg, a high school teacher who lives in Ramsey, went looking through his father’s memorabilia. That’s when he found an old POW identification card written in German, which also said that Sundberg had been wounded.
On Wednesday, more than 72 years after the war ended, the old veteran, flanked by several generations of Sundbergs, finally received his Purple Heart. “To him, what matters most is that this was something my mom wanted,” said his proud son.