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WWII Sailor Receives Combat Medals 76 Years After ‘Hazardous Flying’ Over Europe

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A sailor involved in dozens of combat missions in Europe during World War II has finally received the valor medals he earned more than seven decades ago.

Bernard Bartusiak, 95, received a pair of Distinguished Flying Crosses during a ceremony Tuesday at the Pentagon. The awards, which are given for heroism or extraordinary achievement during aerial flights, were presented by Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer.

Bartusiak was in the Navy for a little more than two years when he was assigned to a PB4Y-1 Liberator crew in Europe in 1943. The aviation machinist’s mate first class and the rest of the crew spent 16 months flying dangerous missions over the continent.

Nearly half of those flights took place within a 10-day period of April 1943.

“Petty Officer Bartusiak’s professionalism, perseverance, and devotion to duty reflected great credit upon him and were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service,” his first Distinguished Flying Cross award citation states.

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Bartusiak was then presented with a gold star in lieu of a second Distinguished Flying Cross for his “extraordinary achievements” on 20 more flights between May 1, 1943, and Aug. 20, 1944.

Spencer also presented Bartusiak with seven Air Medals (strike/flight) on Tuesday — the World War II veteran’s second through eighth awards. Those medals are given to sailors or Marines who participate in sustained aerial flight operations.

Bartusiak has rated the medals since the 1940s but, for unknown reasons, he did not receive them at the time of his service, said Cmdr. Sarah Higgins, a spokeswoman for Spencer.

“In 2018 with the help of his congressman’s office, Mr. Bartusiak submitted documentation substantiating the missions, and on that basis [Spencer] made the awards,” she said.

That congressman is Rep. Dan Lipinski, D-Illinois. Members of his staff worked with Bartusiak, who’s from Chicago, for years tracking down copies of his flight logs so they could submit them to the Navy, said Phil Davidson, Lipinski’s communications director.

Once they were approved, Spencer told Lipinski he wanted to host the ceremony in his Pentagon office, Davidson said.

Lipinski called Bartusiak an inspiration to all.

“He is a man who defended our country at a time of tremendous need,” the congressman said. “It was my sincere privilege to help him obtain the medals he had rightfully earned for his service and bravery in WWII.”

After the ceremony, Lipinski said Bartusiak named him the honorary 11th member of his air crew.

“It is an honor I will never forget,” Lipinski said.

— Gina Harkins can be reached at gina.harkins@military.com. Follow her on Twitter @ginaaharkins.

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