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Family of deceased WWII veteran accepts Purple Heart

BISMARCK -- It was a tearful, yet relieved, gathering Monday morning as Leonard Larson, who died more than 70 years ago during World War II, posthumously received his Purple Heart.

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Mabel Hysjulien, center, holds a Purple Heart medal presented to her by Senator Heidi Heitkamp, left, at a posthumous presentation of the medal awarded to her brother, Leonard Larson, who was killed in World War II. Also shown are Lt. Col. Stephen Herda, second from left, and Gene Hysjulien, third from left, and Dianna Hysjulien, right. (TOM STROMME/Tribune)

BISMARCK -- It was a tearful, yet relieved, gathering Monday morning as Leonard Larson, who died more than 70 years ago during World War II, posthumously received his Purple Heart.

"His memory has the recognition that it deserves," Gene Hysjulien, his nephew, said after the ceremony, held in Sen. Heidi Heitkamp's Bismarck office, had concluded.

Born in Colgan in 1925, Leonard was killed in battle in 1944.

Mabel Hysjulien, Leonard's sister, Gene Hysjulien, his nephew, and Dianna Hysjulien, Gene's wife, were all present to accept the award on their loved one's behalf.

Mabel Hysjulien said the Monday ceremony left her "sad and glad."

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She wished her brother and sister could've been there with her, she added.

"It always is emotional," she said.

The Hysjuliens worked with Heitkamp and Chris Berglund, Deputy Veterans Service Officer, for about two years to obtain the award, which had been previously given to his family, but wasn't on his official record.

In the process of replacing the erroneous and frayed purple heart, they discovered Leonard had been awarded a Bronze Star Medal for his service in battle.

Gene Hysjulien said he and his family were incredibly proud to learn of the award, as no one was aware of it beforehand.

"It's been a long road," he said.

Gene Hysjulien said much of his emotion during the Monday morning ceremony came from seeing his mother get one step closer to closure in her brother's death.

"It had a lot of emotion to it," he said. "It was also such an honor."

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Though Gene Hysjulien said the ceremony wouldn't have been possible without Heitkamp and Berglund, Heitkamp said their efforts to collect the proper records and documents didn't compare to Leonard's sacrifice.

"This is their day," she said of Leonard's family.

After the ceremony, the three relatives, Heitkamp and Berglund shared memories and gratitude over coffee in Heitkamp's office.

Mable Hysjulien said her brother had a good personality. She joked about being the baby of the family and was consequently at the mercy of her older brothers.

Still, she said, he was always good to her.

"I have good memories of him," she said.

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