Seventy years after Staff Sgt. Wilbur Troehler earned a Bronze Star and 25 years after he died, the Army last week presented Troehler’s family with the star and several other awards he earned but never received.
Although Troehler was from Illinois, his son, Eugene Troehler, now lives in Overland Park. When Eugene and his brother Bill went to research their dad’s military past, they uncovered the list of awards, which they’d never known about when their dad was alive.
The presentation happened Friday in a ceremony at Fort Leavenworth. Such presentations are relatively unusual. Col. Timothy Wulff, who has commanded the garrison at Fort Leavenworth since 2012, said it was the first he has attended since he’s been there.
The situation itself isn’t as rare. In World War II, so many people were serving and so much was going on that there wasn’t really time for a lot of formal award presentations.
Awards would go on a soldier’s military record, but “if the soldier never asked, (a formal presentation) never happened,” said Steven Cormier, adjutant general for Fort Leavenworth.
Sometimes, soldiers didn’t get a copy of a physical medal at all. That’s what seems to have happened to Wilbur Troehler.
“One thing I love about the Army — I don’t like that we make mistakes, but we fix our mistakes,” Wulff said.
According to Eugene, Wilbur Troehler wasn’t the kind of guy to seek awards or recognition of his work.
After basic training at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri and additional training in Kentucky, Wilbur Troehler joined the forces in Europe as part of Company D of the 289th Regiment of the 75th Infantry Division of the Army. He went directly to the Ardennes in Belgium to fight in what was later known as the Battle of the Bulge and headed into combat Dec. 25, 1944.
Troehler rarely even mentioned his war service to his three sons.
“My dad was my hero, but I don’t think he did anything that hundreds of thousands of other GIs didn’t do,” Eugene said. “If he was here, he would probably say, ‘I was just doing my job.’”
When Eugene and his brother first started looking for their dad’s records, they hit a brick wall in the form of a 1973 fire in St. Louis at the National Personnel Records Center. This fire destroyed numerous military personnel files.
After inquiring with Mary Johnson at Human Resources Command at Fort Knox, Eugene was able to get microfilm copies of records that confirmed that his father earned not only a Bronze Star but also the American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Army Occupation Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Expert Infantry Badge and Army Lapel Button.
Eugene doesn’t know if his father knew or even cared that he’d won these honors. The process of uncovering the files took eight or nine months.
“I was amazed at how much information (Johnson) was able to compile,” Eugene said. “I had a few miscellaneous pieces of paper, and she performed miracles. I’m just amazed and honored that the Army cares to this degree about its people” to have the awards ceremony even now.
Even though Troehler died 25 years ago, it’s still important to the Army to give awards such as Troehler’s to the surviving family members. Eugene is the only one of Troehler’s three sons still living, but many of his friends and family gathered from at least four different states to be at the ceremony.
Wulff referred to the importance of families to military personnel at the ceremony.
“The family thing struck me,” Wulff said. “We’ve really emphasized the family in the last 10 years.”