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Nov 7, 2017 3:33 PMPublication: The Southampton Press

Hampton Bays Man Returns Missing Bronze Star To Family Of World War II Veteran

Rick Robinson of Hampton Bays returned a Bronze Medal to th family of a fallen veteran. AMANDA BERNOCCO
Nov 8, 2017 9:31 AM

Rick Robinson always loved collecting military memorabilia.The best part about being a collector, Mr. Robinson explained recently, is getting the chance to hold history in his hands. Feeling the weight of an old knife or antique handgun against his skin, brushing a finger along its metallic edges, and admiring an item up close makes him—at least for a brief moment—feel like he is part of history.

One of his favorite items, which he says he acquired from a now-defunct Merrick antiques shop roughly three decades earlier, was a Bronze Star Medal from World War II. Typically referred to as a Bronze Star, the award is reserved for those members of the U.S. military who display great heroism or complete meritorious service in a combat zone.

Mr. Robinson, now 50, always cherished the medal, acknowledging its prestige, and always dreaming of one day serving his country and earning one of his own.

Though it occurred later than planned, the Hampton Bays resident enlisted in the Army National Guard in 2007, at age 40, after his twin brother, Michael, joined the Navy. Rick Robinson, who had worked as a communications technician, explained that he wanted to join the military but always found a reason to delay, until he finally thought he was too old to enlist. He made the call to a recruiter after receiving a little push from his sibling.

“With all these kids, I was considered an old man,” Mr. Robinson said, recalling his first few months in the military. “I was even older than the drill sergeants.”

After being deployed to Afghanistan for several months in 2008, Mr. Robinson returned to the states and was stationed in Farmingdale, where he would spend the remainder of his military career before retiring in January.

It was shortly after his retirement that Mr. Robinson, vice commander at the American Legion Hand Aldrich Post 924 in Hampton Bays, came across the old Bronze Star in his collection of military memorabilia. Having just recently completed his service, he thought it was odd that he, a veteran, possessed a medal that was earned by another veteran.

“I didn’t feel right having it anymore,” Mr. Robinson said.

Though he briefly thought about selling the medal to an antiques shop, Mr. Robinson said he dismissed those plans after spotting in September, for the first time, the name “Eugene Bechtle” engraved on its back.

After some research, Mr. Robinson learned that Mr. Bechtle, a World War II veteran and a 2nd lieutenant in the Army Air Corps from 1942 to 1945, had died of natural causes in 1993, at age 78. But after a quick Google search, Mr. Robinson said he was able to locate one of Mr. Bechtle’s sons, Eugene Bechtle Jr., an attorney with an office in Garden City and who lives in Lido Beach.

The younger Mr. Bechtle explained that his family had lost nearly all of their father’s war memorabilia during a moving mishap almost 30 years earlier, though he declined to elaborate. He also said he couldn’t believe his ears when he received a call last month from Mr. Robinson asking if he could return the Bronze Star.

“The idea that he was going to give it back—what a kind, thoughtful thing that was,” Mr. Bechtle said, as he recalled his phone conversation with Mr. Robinson.

Within 24 hours of that call, the Bronze Star was returned to the Bechtle clan.

According to his son, Eugene Bechtle fought in the Battle of the Bulge, the last major Nazi offensive on the western front during World War II. During the battle, he said his father was in charge of a platoon in a glider that was shot down shortly after crossing the Rhine River.

Though most of his crew was killed in the crash, Mr. Bechtle somehow survived.

A piece of shrapnel, however, found its way into Eugene Bechtle’s hand during the battle, according to his son. Though it was a non-life-threatening injury, it meant that he would never again play the piano—one of his favorite hobbies.

Then, in March 1945, Mr. Bechtle participated in Operation Varsity, a massive military operation that involved more than 16,000 paratroopers and during which he suffered a serious leg wound that would haunt him for the remainder of his life, his son said.

“The wound on his leg would open sometimes and then he had to stay in bed,” the younger Mr. Bechtle recalled, noting that his father would wear special support stockings to protect his injury, which would often turn his skin a mixture of black and brown before bleeding.

For his injuries he also earned a pair of Purple Hearts, both of which were lost in the same move, according to his son. Those medals are still missing, however.

Though his father was a highly decorated veteran, the younger Mr. Bechtle said he did not often talk about his experiences during the war. “He was modest about his service in the Army,” he said.

He would much rather focus on his wife, Katherine, and their four children: Lorraine Brennan of Manhattan, Thomas Bechtle of Connecticut, William Bechtle of Five Towns, and Mr. Bechtle of Lido Beach.

Mr. Bechtle, the Garden City attorney, said he was grateful to have his late father’s property returned by Mr. Robinson.

“I think [my father] would be happy to know that his medal was recovered and that we would be able to pass it on in his memory,” he said. “It’s obviously a symbol of his service and his courage.”

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Well done Rick.
By knitter (869), Southampton on Nov 13, 17 11:49 AM
Wonderful
By Infoseeker (240), Hampton Bays on Nov 13, 17 8:41 PM
Wonderful
By Infoseeker (240), Hampton Bays on Nov 13, 17 8:41 PM
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