Bradenton veteran has more than medals to remember V-E Day

A vet carries reminders of World War II's V-E Day

vmannix@bradenton.comMay 8, 2012 

BRADENTON

The medals were tucked away on a shelf in Harry Sardelis' trailer off 14th Street West.

He's been in Lincoln Arms Mobile Home Park about a year, but never got around to mounting them in a shadowbox or the like.

Among them is the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, which the World War II veteran cradled in his hand like precious gems.

"It's been a long time," said Sardelis, 87. "I did what I did and moved on with my life."

Yet he also has another hidden memento from that conflict, one that resonates today, V-E Day, the 67th anniversary of the war's end in Europe.

It's a piece of a German 31-caliber bullet Sardelis was shot with in early 1945 during the Battle of the Bulge, one of the European theater's bloodiest campaigns.

Surgeons got part of the projectile, but decided it was best to leave the rest of it alone.

So Sardelis, who went on to spend 50 years with the U.S. Post office, marry three times and raise a family, carries quite a war souvenir.

"It doesn't show up at airports, but it's still in there," he joked.

Sardelis grew up in Fitchburg, Mass., and like so many young Americans wanted

to join the fight.

"Did I think I'd come back? Oh, absolutely," he said. "I just had that feeling that nothing was going to happen to me. I remember diving into a shallow pool when I was a kid. It could've killed me. I just got scraped up."

His luck held up Jan. 14, 1945 in war-torn Belgium.

The Battle of the Bulge had been raging for almost a month, Germany's final desperate attempt to turn the tide of the war with a massive armored counter-thrust against the Allied advance.

Sardelis was with U.S. forces trying to rescue Americans trapped in the town of Bastogne, which was surrounded.

He never made it.

His unit had reached a town near Bastogne and was reconnoitering it building by building.

"I was bending down in a doorway, looking out to see if anybody was around," Sardelis said. "Somebody called me and I stood up and turned around and I got shot in the back.

"I didn't know I was shot. I turned back around. I wanted to see who hit me. There was nobody around. It had to be from a long distance. Then one of our guys says, 'You've been shot' and called a medic."

The war was over for Sardelis.

"They missed my spine by that much," he said, holding his thumb and forefinger slightly apart. "I was mad I was hurt, but I was alive. I gave away my coat and my boots. I was going home."

Sardelis was lucky, indeed.

By the time the Battle of the Bulge ended 11 days later, more than 19,000 Americans would be dead and nearly 47,500 wounded -- perhaps the heaviest American losses for a single engagement during the European campaign.

Sardelis was operated on in England and shipped back to America for further hospitalization at Walter Reed Army Medical Center in Washington, D.C.

"We were at sea when (President Franklin) Roosevelt died," he said. "Everybody on the boat was crying. FDR was the big chief. He got us through so much."

Cheryl Marino, the trailer park's manager, is too young to remember that, but she respects Sardelis and his quiet ways.

"Harry keeps to himself and not a lot of folks know about his combat experience," she said. "We're losing more and more of our World War II vets slowly but surely, including the ones who lived here in the park over the years. So it is something to treasure, having Harry here."

Sardelis won't do anything special to remember V-E Day.

The Bronze Star and Purple Heart are all the reminders he needs.

Besides that other memento, of course.

"One time a doctor was looking at my X-ray and he said there's a foreign body here," Sardelis said. "I said, yeah, it's a bullet."

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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