MONTPELIER – The son and daughter of a Vermont World War I veteran received a Purple Heart at the Statehouse on Wednesday, almost 95 years after he was wounded in battle.
Cpl. John Demag earned the medal during fighting in France in 1918. At the time, he received a cuff badge called a wound chevron.
Demag’s remaining children, son Fred Demag, 79, of East Montpelier and daughter, Flora Bovat, of Milton, were given the medal and a certificate. “I want to thank you for everything you’ve put together for me,” Fred Demag said, tearing up at the podium.
Maj. Gen. Steven Cray, the head of the Vermont National Guard, presented the Purple Heart, which is awarded to service members wounded or killed in combat. The Purple Heart was created in 1782 as the Badge of Military Merit by George Washington, but was ignored for nearly 150 years until it was reintroduced on the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth.
John Demag rarely spoke about his wartime experience with his large family, according to his children.
Fred Demag, who also served in the Army including in Korea and Vietnam, said his family knew their father served in World War I but did not know details of his history until his stepdaughter did some digging on the Internet less than a year ago.
“I got more information from my stepdaughter on the Internet because the family never talked about it,” he said.
His sister-in-law mentioned that his father could receive a Purple Heart posthumously, so Fred Demag reached out to Sen. Bernie Sanders’ office to work on obtaining the award.
What is now called World War I began in the summer of 1914. The United States did not enter the war until 1917 and it wasn’t until 1918 that American forces began to fight in significant numbers.
Many eligible World War I veterans did ask for Purple Hearts after they were re-established in 1932, so working on a request like Demag’s family’s was rare, said Geoffrey Pippenger, a constituent advocate with Sanders’ office.
“He was kind of a private person,” Bovat said, explaining why her father might not have requested one. “Knowing him, he might have been embarrassed.”
John Demag was born in Essex in 1893, enlisted in the Army in February 1918 and went to France that May. He was wounded that August, suffering bullet wounds to the stomach, head and leg.
He spent about a year in a military hospital before returning to the United States. In 1925, he began working in trucking. His business, Demag, A Crane & Rigging Co., still exists and is run by family today. He died in 1955 at age 63.
Bovat felt lucky the family was able to get her father a medal and thought he would be proud of the recognition.
“I just wish he could have lived long enough to see it,” she said.