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Published: Saturday, 12/7/2002

4 local veterans noted for heroism

BY GEORGE J. TANBER
BLADE STAFF WRITER
Area veterans James Decant, Jr., Frederick Garcia, Russell Frautschi, and Ivy Church, Sr., from left, were honored. Area veterans James Decant, Jr., Frederick Garcia, Russell Frautschi, and Ivy Church, Sr., from left, were honored.
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ANN ARBOR - Russell Frautschi of Rossford spent 20 months in a World War II German prison camp.

Frederick Garcia of Toledo was injured three times in 101/2 months of duty in Vietnam.

Ivy Church, Sr., of Fostoria survived the Normandy Beach invasion only to be wounded critically by a German shell a few days later.

James Decant, Jr., of Temperance was hurt seriously holding off an ambush in Vietnam, and was wounded again a year later in a similar confrontation.

The men were among 15 veterans honored yesterday at the annual Wall of Heroes ceremony at the Veterans Administration Ann Arbor Health Care System auditorium - the day before today's 61st anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Portraits of the four Toledo-area men will be displayed at the Toledo VA Outpatient Clinic on Glendale Avenue, while portraits of the other veterans - all from Michigan - will be displayed at the Ann Arbor VA.

The ceremony, in its fifth year, honors Army, Navy, and Marine Corps veterans, many of whom were battle heroes or prisoners of war.

“I was proud to accept the honor on behalf of many Vietnam veterans who couldn't be there. It was a humbling experience,” said Mr. Decant, 56, a retired U.S. Marine corporal.

As a member of the 327th Battalion in 1968, Mr. Decant was involved in some of the heaviest fighting of the war during the Tet Offensive and in protecting the allied airport at DaNang.

“We took a lot of casualties,” he said. “I'm the only one left living in my squad.”

Mr. Decant's right arm was seriously injured during his first stint and he was sent to Hawaii to recover. Before the year was out, even though he wasn't 100 percent, he returned to the front, where he almost lost his left arm the next time he was wounded.

“If you were in the Marine Corps and you were breathing and you could walk, they sent you back,” said Mr. Decant, who received a Purple Heart and a Vietnam Service Medal with three Bronze Stars.

Following his discharge, Mr. Decant married his Waite High School sweetheart, with whom he had three sons. He worked at AP Parts until that company closed and now is employed by the Catholic Diocese of Toledo.

Not a day goes by that he doesn't feel pain from his wounds. He's also suffering from other war-related health problems, but Mr. Decant said he was lucky to return when so many of his friends died.

“I know the war was unpopular, but I was proud to serve this nation. I loved the Marine Corps.”

Mr. Frautschi, 81, a U.S. Army Air Corps technical sergeant, was on a bombing mission over Germany in 1943 when his B-17 was shot down by a German plane. He was shot in the foot, before escaping by parachute, but was immediately captured after landing safely.

“They could have shot me, but they didn't. I was pleased,” said Mr. Frautschi, adding that three of his nine crewmates did not survive.

He spent his first 10 days in solitary confinement, during which the Germans tried to get him to reveal his mission, something he never did.

“That got to me. And the 10 days in solitary confinement wasn't too great, either.”

Mr. Frautschi, who received a Purple Heart and Air Medal, was among 1,500 Allied prisoners in the famous prison camp depicted in the play and movie Stalag 17. He said that since most of the prisoners were officers, they were treated reasonably well by their prison guards, most of whom were elderly German soldiers. Still, he suffered from frostbite and malnutrition during his 20 months in captivity.

As the war was ending, the prisoners went on a three-week march before being liberated by Gen. George Patton's troops. He returned to Rossford, married, had three children, and ran the family hardware business for 40 years before retiring in 1987.

Mr. Garcia, 58, joined the Marines in 1966 while he was a student at the University of the Americas in Mexico City.

He completed nine major search-and-destroy operations and was wounded on three different occasions. Although he was only 21 at the time, he was the second-oldest member of his squad.

“It was an overwhelming experience. As young men, our values are developing, and we were sent to defend our country. Our values changed because of the experience of war,” he said.

“It was such an obscene experience,” he said. “I address it that way even though it's not always socially acceptable because [among] the Viet Cong were women, children, and older men.”

Though his war wounds left him seriously disabled, Mr. Garcia, who received three Purple Hearts and a Vietnam Service Medal with two Bronze Stars, completed his education and lived and traveled in Mexico.

Mr. Church, 82, a U.S. Army private who served as a bazooka launcher and sharpshooter, still marvels that he survived the Normandy Beach invasion, where he landed with thousands of Allied troops.

“It was so awful. I've tried to hide it in my mind. So many of them died. It was just pure luck [that I survived] or the Lord was with me,” he said.

Several weeks after the invasion, Mr. Church was in a foxhole when a German shell exploded overhead and a piece of shrapnel severed his right ear, destroyed his right lung, and lodged near his heart.

After several operations, Mr. Church, who received a Purple Heart and a Bronze Star, lost the use of his right arm. He returned to Fostoria, married, had five children and, despite his disability, worked in a factory before retiring in 1973.

“It shakes me up every time I think about it,” he said.



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