By howard koplowitz
Nearly 70 years after he fought in North Africa and Sicily during World War II, former Rego Park resident Arno Heller finally received the Bronze Star he was entitled to, thanks to U.S. Rep. Bob Turner’s (R-Middle Village) office.
A native of Germany, the 91-year-old Heller, who served as a U.S. Army sniper during the Rhineland Campaign of 1944-45 immigrated to the United States shortly before the war broke out.
Heller, who serves as a volunteer for Borough President Helen Marshall, contacted Turner’s office after he received a mailer on veterans’ affairs from the congressman and asked the office to help him prove his entitlement to the Bronze Star.
Turner then contacted the National Personnel Records Center and the awards and decorations branch of Fort Knox, and Heller’s entitlement to the medal was verified.
“It means so much I can hardly describe it,” the 91-year-old said when he received the honor Friday at American Legion Post No. 1424 in Forest Hills. “I am actually overwhelmed with the effort and the kindness and professionalism of Rep. Turner and his office. I really appreciate the work of the congressman and all of his staff. Everyone has been so kind, nice, friendly and helpful I am speechless.
“It’s very emotional because after all these years sometimes I lie awake at night and a lot of memories come back. No bad memories. It’s been a terrific experience. All the people at work come over and shake my hand and congratulate me every time I mention Rep. Turner’s efforts and success and I am just very grateful.”
Heller was also honored at Marshall’s State of the Borough address last month, in which Marshall called Heller “a wonderful representative of all our World War II veterans.”
Turner called the Rego Park native “a prime example of a man who puts country before self. As a private in the Army, he rose to the occasion, putting his life on the line to defend his adopted homeland and the principles it stands for.”
The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest individual military decoration for bravery, heroism or meritorious service given out by the armed forces. It is ninth-highest military award, including both combat and non-combat honors.
“Pvt. Heller joins an elite class of United States servicemen and women who exceed the call of duty to protect our nation and his or her fellow soldiers,” Turner said. “Mr. Heller bravely defended his country and his brethren in arms, and today our nation says, ‘Thank you,’” Turner said.
Reach reporter Howard Koplowitz by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4573.