At a luncheon in Mountain View last November, U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo overheard John Indergand talking about his service in World War II, mentioning how he had never received an Oak Leaf Cluster medal he was promised after his second combat injury. Later, Eshoo asked him about it and said that with some more information, she might be able to help.
In February, Indergand and his wife, Litsie, were called into Eshoo's Palo Alto office. There he was presented with a few wooden boxes, holding the Oak Leaf Cluster, a Purple Heart medal, a Bronze Star medal and a Combat Infantry Badge. Now Indergand, 89, wears them proudly on his tweed jacket.
Eshoo (D-Palo Alto) has assisted other veterans with similar inquiries before, each time embarking on a process that she called "enormously complex." This time, after collecting his service number and other documentation, her staff worked with the U.S. Department of the Army and the Human Resources Command, Awards and Decorations Branch, to obtain the medals.
"It's exciting to see the face and hear the words of the recipient," she told the Weekly. "It makes all the work worthwhile."
Born in 1924, John Indergand was drafted for service in World War II not long after graduating from Pasadena High School. He signed up for armored services, and after training in Kentucky and Missouri, he landed with the 7th Armored Division in Normandy, France, shortly after D-Day in June 1944. He had just turned 20.
His first combat injury occurred in September 1944 at Pont-à-Mousson in eastern France, when a bullet grazed his head, knocking him unconscious. General Joseph L. Collins, the area's commanding officer, awarded him and other patients there a Purple Heart. As his wound was not severe, he rejoined his division only a few days later.
The battle at Pont-à-Mousson against the German military -- whose skill and technology Indergand never hesitated to compliment -- was rough on the Americans, which might explain why few people hear about it today, Indergand said.
"The winning battles get celebrated a lot, and I approve of that, but sometimes they don't tell us about some of the battles like Pont-à-Mousson," he said. "Officially in the first 25 years, I never read any reference to it."
About 20 years ago, Indergand and his wife took a trip to Europe and revisited the agricultural town on the river Moselle. Seeing American tourists, some friendly locals began talking with them in a tea shop. When they learned he had fought there, they gathered round to thank him and brought them both tea and pastries, accepting no money.
His second combat injury, sustained during the Battle of the Bulge in December 1944, was much more serious. Near the Belgian town of Houffalize, he was leading some German prisoners to a waiting truck when a shell exploded nearby, launching a piece of shrapnel at his leg that broke bone and severed nerves.
After even more travails, he found himself recuperating in an English-estate-turned-hospital located somewhere outside of London, he believes. In February, General Walter Bedell Smith visited them, and because they had run out of Oak Leaf Cluster medals, Indergand and others were each given a slip of paper they could redeem for a medal back in the U.S. He later lost his paper.
After spending about five weeks there, he was shipped in a full-body cast back to Virginia and then flown around the country. He ended up in Letterman Hospital in San Francisco's Presidio. He spent many months there healing and began attending the University of California, Berkeley, along with other veterans. He met his future wife, Litsie (also a student in Berkeley), at Letterman Hospital where she had an office job.
Indergand went on with his life -- getting married, having two children, and working as a journalist and later in political management. He and Litsie lived in San Francisco, the Los Angeles area, Burlingame and other cities before eventually buying their current house in Palo Alto in 1981. Over the years, he didn't worry much about the medals he had been promised.
"For a long time, I didn't pay attention to this stuff," he said. "We kind of concentrated on it being after the war. I went around wearing blue suits and black shoes -- no brown."
Later in life, he began to study history more and today boasts a large collection of presidential biographies. In speaking about his experiences, which he did very openly, he revealed his encyclopedic knowledge of the battles he participated in and World War II as a whole.
Indergand said that he had opposed most of the wars the U.S. fought during his lifetime. However, he has developed an appreciation for the American military's efforts during World War II and his part in it. In that vein, he had begun thinking about claiming his medals when Eshoo pitched in and made it a reality.
"I'm very pleased now," he said about receiving them. "I'm happy to remember the good side of military service. There is an accomplishment to it, if the original purposes are followed through on."