Great Falls veteran receives recognition half century after WWII

Great Falls Tribune

by Michael Beall

On the lawn of the Great Falls Veterans Center, World War II veteran Lewis W. Holzheimer wore a smile on his face and had a tear in his eye.

Holzheimer was greeted by fellow veterans and surrounded by family and friends Friday morning to receive recognition he thought had fallen by the wayside a half century ago. He was about to finally hold in his hands the Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Combat Infantry Badge and Presidential Unit Citation for his service in Europe in the months following D-Day.

“It’s never too late,” Great Falls Mayor Michael Winters said. “We have these opportunities even after all of these years to honor a person who has put his life on the line for his friends and his comrades.”

Winters introduced Sen. Jon Tester, who read to the crowd that gathered around Holzheimer the words he will speak on the Senate floor. It was Holzheimer’s past, and those words Tester spoke Holzheimer knew too well.

“I want to say thank you for the service,” Tester began. “No story of heroism should ever fall through the cracks.”

Holzheimer was born in Neihart in 1923 and worked as a lineman apprentice in Cascade County when Pearl Harbor was attacked. When he enlisted in the Army, he was assigned to Company G of the 60th regiment of the 9th infantry division.

He arrived in Normandy in early July 1944. It was D-Day plus 30.

On Aug. 8 1944, Holzheimer fought in the Battle of Hedgerows, where he was wounded in the foot. After recovering, Holzheimer went back to his unit to find that it had been wiped out, so he was reassigned to Company B of the same regiment. The blast, Holzheimer recalled, made a hole in the ground that looked like a deep mine crater.

Holzheimer’s unit was responsible for the attack on the town of Hoven in Belgium, a battle in which his unit was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation he received Friday.

Holzheimer was wounded again during the Battle of Hurtgen Forest, a series of brutal battles fought on German ground, when his regiment was pinned down by sniper fire. Members of his company had to take turns running toward nearest American forces, and Holzheimer was struck under his left arm during the retreat. And as he informed his scout that he was wounded, a shell exploded. The scout was dead, but Holzheimer insisted that he should be taken to the hospital first.

Holzheimer nearly lost his leg, Tester concluded. He still carries the shrapnel in his leg.

“After service, Lewis never received the medals that he earned from the army,” Tester said. “So today in the presence of his family, it is an honor and a privilege to present these to Lewis.”

When the presentation concluded, one by one Holzheimer’s fellow veterans shook his hand and thanked him for his service.

Jim Carter, a veteran and the regional president for the Blind Veterans Association, thanked Holzheimer.

“I thanked him for serving,” he said. “Then I said, ‘It was a long time coming,’ and he agreed. He finally got the recognition.”

Jerry Sutich, Holzheimer’s nephew, said it was great to see him finally get the awards he fought for.

“He felt pain all his life,” he said. “But he’s always been a loving, kind person with that smile.”

Holzheimer couldn’t thank his daughter Grayce and son Rick enough for organizing the event and getting Tester’s office to research his past.

“It’s quite an honor, really,” he said. “I knew it would be exciting. It’s just hard to put it into words.”

Holzheimer will be on board the Honor Flight from Billings to Washington, D.C., on Sept. 23, and it’ll be an exciting 90th birthday that will be a homecoming of sorts, he said.