ST. PAUL, Minn. – The key to Wayne Sundberg’s Purple Heart was hidden for years in a closet.
Written on a prisoner of war identification card was the word “verwundet,” German for wounded.
On Tuesday, thanks to that card, Senator Amy Klobuchar pinned the Purple Heart medal on Sundberg.
“It’s just beautiful,” said Sundberg, surrounded by family.
Sundberg’s late wife Gaye had dreamed of this moment, but the road seemed blocked when she learned her husband’s military records had been destroyed in a fire.
After Gaye passed away, the couple’s son Mark took up his father’s cause – eventually finding the German POW card stashed in his father’s closet. “And that was evidence he had sustained a combat injury,” Mark Sundberg said.
Sundberg was injured by shrapnel when the B-26 in which he was flying was shot down across enemy lines. The turret gunner parachuted from the plane before it crashed, only to be taken captive by a German soldier with a rifle.
“For you the war’s over,” he recalls the German soldier telling him.
Though eligible for the Purple Heart upon his release from the prison camp, Sundberg chose not to wait for the paperwork to clear.
“He had a train ticket to go home and it's like, you know, ‘I just spent nine months in a prison camp, I'm going home,’” Mark Sundberg said.
Wayne Sundberg - a Milaca native - went to college, then spent his working career as a physical education teacher in the St. Louis Park school district.
The medal was finally awarded on the 60th anniversary of Wayne Sundberg’s marriage to Gaye.
“That brings tears to me,” the veteran said. “Yes, she would have really appreciated this.”