After five days in the midst of a devastating battle, Frank Dechant, among other members of his unit, were captured by Nazi soldiers, and faced with seemingly indefinite imprisonment.
Seventy years later, family and friends gathered to recognize Dechant, now 91, and honor him with the United States Prisoner of War Medal, for the time spent interred as a German prisoner following the Battle of the Bulge in 1944.
“It feels like it did yesterday, no different, just that I see a lot of my old friends and people and relatives,” said Dechant following the award ceremony. “It’s just hard to believe that this all happened.”
Dechant was drafted into the Army in 1943 as a member of the Army Ground Forces Replacement Depot No. 2, a unit which provided assistance and reinforcements to units on the battlefield. Deployed in Oct. 1944, Dechant was serving in Belgium at the start of the battle, where he among his fellow troops were separated from the U.S. lines, captured and transported to Stalag VIII-A, a German prisoner of war camp.
“This means a lot,” said Robert Robles, a friend of Dechant’s. “All these service men should be recognized for their actions. What he went through — it’s unbelievable he survived.”
One of 1,800 American prisoners from the Battle of the Bulge, Dechant was held prisoner until the week of April 20, 1945, when American soldiers liberated the camp and those imprisoned.
“Not to have experienced it myself, it’s hard to understand the hardships and conflicts that they went through as soldiers in our country,” said Richard Dechant, one of Frank’s four sons. “For them (the World War II soldiers) it was a natural thing to do, but he still goes through that and has been carrying it [the experiences] over the last 70 years.”
Following his internment, Dechant was airlifted to the United States where he finished his service and obtained a job at Golden Motors Ford in 1946. He worked there as a mechanic, salesman, and manager until the company was sold in 1996.
Since the war Frank married Mary Edith Dechant, raised four sons, each with families of their own, and has created a legacy extending to family and friends in Colorado and across state borders.
“Sometimes we don’t recognize veterans enough, for their service and what they’ve done for us, and when you hear the stories — and he doesn’t tell them very often, but when he does — you realize the real sacrifice they went through,” said Julie Dechant, Frank’s daughter-in-law.
With his family gathered around, waiting for him, Frank, who was dressed in his burgundy ex-prisoner of war hat and vest, was rolled in his wheelchair into Congressman Ed Perlmutter’s conference room, Monday, April 14.
As tears streamed down Frank’s face, Congressman Perlmutter and Frank’s nephew, Lt. Col. Jerry Sticklein, pinned the American Prisoner of War Medal onto his vest, honoring him for the sacrifice he made.