Menomonee Falls - The Menomonee Falls Rotary Club meeting on Aug. 1 began like any other, but ended like none before.
It was called to order at noon and the Rotarians took their usual seats. Among the regulars was Bob Baer, a longtime Menomonee Falls resident who owns Dan's Tog Shop on Main Street. Baer was in for an unexpected surprise - one he never thought possible. It was also 67 years in the making.
Brigadier General and Director of the Joint Staff, Wisconsin National Guard Scott Legwold surprised Baer with Army medals that he should have received years ago after serving in the infantry during World War II. More than 100 people including close friends and family, fellow veterans and public officials attended the Rotary meeting and honored Baer. The ceremony was organized by his close friends Robyn Turtenwald and Wally Kangas.
When asked after the Rotary meeting if he ever thought he would receive the medals he knew he earned, Baer simply replied "no."
"I knew nothing of this. The only thing I was coming here today for was a regular rotary meeting," Baer said. "It was complete surprise."
Three years of fighting
Battles that are history lessons for most were a reality for Baer.
In the early 1940s, Baer elected to attend community college in Ontario, Calif., to study engineering for the military.
The program was canceled and on June 21, 1943, Baer was inducted into the 137th infantry, 80th division and shipped to a camp in Oregon to train for battle. He would not use his engineering knowledge for the next three years, rather he would land and fight on Omaha Beach in Normandy, France, the day after what is now known as D-Day. He was also part of the Northern French Campaign and the German Campaign.
"The program was canceled and we were shipped up to a camp in Oregon," Baer explained. "And it was so funny because there were Air Force men, Army men, Navy men that all were at the school and they got shipped to the infantry regardless. It didn't matter."
Baer landed on Omaha Beach on June 7, 1944, with thousands of fellow soldiers. More than 9,000 Allied soldiers were killed and wounded.
"The one thing I will tell you about landing in France - people were dying all around me. The Germans were shelling that whole area and some of us were lucky to have survived," Baer said.
Baer was part of the infantry that marched into Germany to defeat Hitler and the Nazi army. He spent three weeks in a foxhole behind enemy lines before fighting in the Northern French Campaign in November 1944 and the German Campaign in 1945.
"You had to acknowledge the fact that was the way it was going to be and accept it," he said of his three weeks behind enemy lines.
Baer was honorably discharged from the service June 19, 1945.
After 67 years, the sacrifices Baer made for his country came full circle last week.
"Bob, I know the word 'hero' is used in many different ways today, but in my book any and everyone who serves our country and especially those who faced the enemy as you did are a hero," Rotary Club President Ric Hartman said. "I think you have the honor and distinction of being called the greatest generation."
Legwold presented Baer with four medals: the World War II Victory Medal, the European African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one bronze service star, the American Campaign Medal and the Bronze Star Medal.
Baer also received the Combat Infantry Badge first award, Honorable Service Lapel Button World War II and the Marksman Badge and Rifle Bar.
State Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, and Rep. Dan Knodl, R-Germantown, also presented Baer with a plaque, recognizing him for his service.
"He's truly a fixture in Menomonee Falls, not because he's lived here most of his life, but because he's given so much to his community," Menomonee Falls Village Board President Randy Newman said. "Menomonee Falls is a better place because he lives here."
Baer continued to give back to his community long after his time in the service ended. Through the years he has served as president of the Menomonee Falls Chamber of Commerce, spent 22 years on the Community Memorial Hospital board of directors, six years on the Waukesha Memorial Hospital board, worked as the director of the Menomonee Falls Fall Fair, and has been a member of the Rotary Club for 36 years.
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