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Nearly forgotten World War II vet recognized after 60 years

Ford Oscar Bishop proudly displays his medals.

Sixty one years is a long time to wait for something a person has deserved.

And for Ford Oscar Bishop, a World War II veteran who was captured and nearly executed by Nazi troops, it seemed even longer.

Ford was recently recognized for his military accomplishments during a service in Redding, Calif. The Carbon County native got his dues, but it wasn't without some controversy.

Ford was born in Sunnyside on Aug. 27, 1919 and lived there for most of his youth. His father was a local coal miner at the Wattis mine when he was a child.

When the war came he wanted to get into it so he joined up. But he almost regretted that on a day in 1945 when he and 40 others from his unit were captured by German forces. Fortunately a turn of events lead to the salvation of the group.

"On the morning of May 5, 1945 we were sent out on a reconnaissance mission near St. Gilgen, Austria, to rescue our commanding officer, Commander Anderson," said Bishop. "During the mission we were spotted by the German troops, got into a fire fight. We were greatly outnumbered."

During the shoot out several soldiers were killed and around 35, including Bishop were captured.

"We were then marched to the city square in St. Gilgen," he said.

According to Bishop they were then lined up in a firing squad to be executed when the mayor intervened in the execution and informed the troops that the war had ended. The U.S. troops were then moved into the Gilgen Hotel until an unlikely sequence of events that would grant Bishop and his comrades freedom from their terrible fate occurred.

"I remembered a pistol that I had hidden in my gas mask that I had managed to keep with me," said Charles Akes, one of Bishop's fellow captives. "I had planned to get close to the kid setting up the machine gun, shoot him and tell the others to make a run for it."

According to Akes, it luckily never came to that. A German diplomatic official took a brief absence from the area and the American prisoners took advantage of the lack of supervision and sprinted to the basement of the hotel where they waited out a fire-fight that took place between the German regular army and some SS troops in the streets above.

"There were some bottles of champagne in the basement of the hotel and the guys were popping corks in harmony with the bullets that were bursting through the windows," Akes said.

After that the tables turned and the remaining German troops turned themselves over to the 35 American soldiers, surrendering to end the war.

According to Bishop when he was discharged in late 1945, his company's records had not yet caught up with him.

"Getting a bunch of paperwork was the last thing on my mind at the time," Bishop said. "My only agenda after the war was getting as far away as I could from service and put back the pieces of the life that had floated aimlessly once I signed on the dotted line."

According to Bishop, he and Akes later began tracking down their military records. They were then seeing things from a little different angle than they had just after the war. They figured that they earned some honors so they should be able to have them.

According to Bishop, when they began their search they were told that there was a fire in a building in Missouri where all of the records were kept and that most of their military histories had gone up in flames with the building.

Akes started writing letters to find out exactly what happened to the history of the battalion and after a five year struggle he was finally recognized and received his medals.

"If it wasn't for Chuck our ordeal would have still just been a story and would have eventually been forgotten altogether," said Bishop. "Thanks to his hard work and a lot of patience, I too have received most of my medals."

Congressman Wally Herger, of the second district in Califormia, finally presented Bishop with the medals that he had earned during his tour of duty at a town hall meeting in Redding in 2006.

But once again Bishop was in the middle of it. The meeting was supposed to be covered by the local media. There was indeed a story written, but it didn't include any mention of the veterans and their struggle. Instead there was an angry mob of protesters marching around the town hall turning the focus from the long hard battle of the brave men who fought in World War II that gave their lives, to the protest that ensued. That protest is what the local article ultimately ended up being about.

Herger addressed the crowd and urged them to be polite during the ceremony only to get a response from a member of the mob stating, "Is dropping 500 pound bombs on innocent people polite?".

"Well neither is the public beheading of innocent civilians or flying airplanes into buildings," Herger reportedly replied. "Our troops and our commander in chief are involved in fighting a monster that threatens the very right that you have abused here today and taken for granted. Instead of undermining our country and its leaders, you should be praying that we can find a way to win this war against terrorism. Because if we don't, the next time that you try to speak out at a public meeting you might be taken out and politely beheaded or stoned to death. Think about that."

Nonetheless Bishop got his medals and a commendation for along with his compatriots "engaging 300 heavily armed enemy troops" in which he displayed "courageous effort and with complete disregard for his personal safety, assisted materially in the capture of the towns of Hof, Fushl and St. Gilgen, Austria, resulting in the release of 122 American prisoners of war and the capture of over 200 German prisoners."

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