Family accepts Purple Heart almost 100 years after service

Published: Friday, July 26 2013 6:05 p.m. MDT

Bradley Anderson, right, grandson of Walter H. Anderson, accepts a posthumous Purple Heart in honor of his grandfather from Utah Sen. Mike Lee at the Capitol in Salt Lake City on Friday, July 26, 2013.

Laura Seitz, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — After a search that lasted nearly two years, Bradley Anderson and his family finally received some closure.

Walter Herbert Anderson, his grandfather, deserved a Purple Heart award for injuries sustained when he was gassed during World War I, he said.

He just needed documentation to prove it, a task that turned into months of false leads and dead ends. But he felt he would find the records at some point.

"We never gave up," Bradley Anderson said.

The Anderson family got their wish Friday. Roughly 50 members of the Anderson family gathered in the Gold Room at the Utah Capitol building as Sen. Mike Lee presented Anderson with a posthumous Purple Heart for his grandfather's service.

"In my greatest imagination, I could never predict that we would have this kind of an outcome when I embarked on this wonderful quest to find my grandfather's military medical records about two years ago," Anderson said.

Pfc. Walter Anderson served in the 91st Infantry Division during World War I. He participated in the battle of St. Mihiel in October 1918 and was injured in the battle of Meuse-Argonne in France. He spent six weeks in a hospital recovering from temporary blindness from being gassed. He returned to fight in the battle of Ypres-Lys in Belgium in November 1918.

After he returned from war, he served as post commander with the Veterans of Foreign Wars and a commander of the Lt. Clarence E. Allen VFW Post 409 in Salt Lake City. He continued his life of service in his work as a Salt Lake County commissioner and as chief clerk of the Utah House of Representatives. He also worked for the State Road Commission in its Safety Engineering Department and then for the Internal Revenue Service.

The ceremony was a bittersweet occasion for members of the family who had hoped that son James Anderson — who passed away Monday — would be able to accept the award in place of his father. Although he was unable to be at Friday's ceremony, James Anderson was able to see and hold the Purple Heart and certificate before he passed away.

Bradley Anderson and his father James were the driving forces behind the hunt for documentation. He said he felt that both his father and grandfather were at the ceremony in spirit.

"On this occasion there is no veil in this room," he said.

Throughout his remarks in the ceremony, Bradley Anderson acknowledged two constants: the "invisible hand of God" and Wendy Johnson, who works for Military and Veteran Affairs.

Johnson worked with Bradley Anderson on locating information that proved his grandfather was injured while serving in the military.

Seven months into the process, a Senate inquiry revealed that records may have been burned in the 1973 National Personnel Records Center. Bradley Anderson was ready to give up. Then one day, he received a call from Johnson.

"The higher powers intervened," he said.

Lee's office had found records in a branch in Maine. When they called, they found out that Walter Anderson's records were indeed there. The records included his submission of injuries sustained and an affidavit the military sent back affirming his injuries were valid.

"It was probably the most exciting phone call I've ever made," Johnson said, of delivering the news to Bradley Anderson.

Email: wevans@deseretnews.com

Twitter: whitevs7

Try out the new DeseretNews.com design!
try beta learn more
Get The Deseret News Everywhere