HAZLETON — Joseph C. “Sarge” Heintz accepted his 16 medals from two wars and a lifetime of service to his country as he sat in his wheelchair with his wife, Hilary, at his side Friday.
Heintz, of Hazleton, didn’t want to talk about his war experiences, only to say his military service in World War II and Korea eventually put him in that wheelchair.
But Heintz said he valued every minute he was in service to his country.
“I loved the military,” he said after receiving his long-overdue medals from U.S. Rep. Lou Barletta. “I still feel like I’m a part of it.”
Heintz, 83, was one of three veterans who received their well-earned medals Friday during a ceremony at Barletta’s Hazleton office.
“As Americans, we enjoy the freedoms we have today because of the sacrifice of brave people just like these who have fought for us over the centuries,” Barletta, R-Hazleton, said. “While these medals are long overdue, the presentation gives us an opportunity to thank them once again for their sacrifices on our behalf.”
Also receiving medals were David Sturdevant, of Tunkhannock, who served in the U.S. Air Force from 1965-69, and the late George W. Zeeb, of West Hazleton, who served in the U.S. Army from 1944-46, in Company L, 85th Mountain Infantry Regiment, 10th Mountain Division. Zeeb’s medals were requested by his son, George A. Zeeb, who attended the ceremony.
“I’m overwhelmed,” Heintz said. “But I feel terrific and very proud.”
Sturdevant, 67, said the experience was humbling for him.
“Especially to be here with Mr. Heintz and Mr. Zeeb’s son,” he said. “I never received my medals, despite several attempts to get them. I appreciate the congressman’s support on this.”
Zeeb said his father died on June 4, 2013.
“It means a lot to me to be able to accept these on my father’s behalf,” Zeeb said. “I just wish he was here to accept them for himself. He would be very proud, indeed.”
Barletta said using his office to secure medals for veterans is “the greatest honor” for him in the performance of his job as congressman for the 11th District.
“These are true American heroes,” he said. “To give these medals to veterans who fought for our freedom and who never got the credit is special. I wish Mr. Zeeb was here to receive his medals, but I am glad to see his son accept them on his late father’s behalf.”
Barletta said “Sarge” Heintz helped honor veterans in Hazleton when Barletta served as mayor. He said presenting Heintz with his Silver Star, among 15 other medals, was truly inspiring.
According to the military, the Silver Star, officially referred to as the Silver Star Medal by all of the U.S. Armed Forces, is the third highest military decoration for valor that can be awarded to any person serving in any capacity with the U.S. Armed Forces. The medal is awarded for gallantry in action against an enemy of the United States.
“It’s too bad that these medals are being presented decades after their service,” Barletta said. “But they have them now and we can all thank them for what each of them did for us and for their country.”