As someone who has waited almost 60 years for the honors due him, Conrad Podolski-Dowel can wait a few days more.
But just a few.
Podolski-Dowel, 79, a Northville resident wounded during the Korean War, will receive the Purple Heart, one of the nation’s highest military honors, during the community’s Independence Day parade Monday.
As a U.S. Army combat medic, Podolski-Dowel’s job was to rush into the field to rescue other wounded soldiers, all the while looking out for his own life.
It was as tough a job as it sounds.
“Here I was, 128 pounds and I’d have to haul guys 250 pounds to safety,” recalled Podolski-Dowel, a man of slight build to this day.
He participated in such historic battles as Heartbreak Ridge but his luck ran out one day while loading soldiers on a Jeep for transport to a MASH unit — the kind of Army hospital made famous by the movie and long-running television show, M*A*S*H.
Podolski-Dowel suffered severe injuries to his arms and back when he was hit by an enemy shell. While the shrapnel wounds to his arms faded over time, the back injuries remained with him for life.
He has undergone surgeries through the decades since then and receives ongoing care at the Veterans Administration Hospital in Ann Arbor.
“I had my most recent surgery last Easter,” he said. “I have so many rods in my back that they can’t give me a shot without bending the needle back.”
Still, he’s not one to complain or to seek glory.
“He’s honored to receive the award but he feels there’s hundreds of other guys out there who deserve honors but also haven’t yet received them,” said his wife, Bobbie.
Nor was he one to let his injuries slow him down.
“I came out of the service determined to make something of myself,” said Podolski-Dowel, who served on active duty in Korea from 1951-53.
Earning doctorates in philosophy and education, he became a pioneering child psychotherapist in the Birmingham and Clarenceville public school districts.
It was then that the Hamtramck native changed his name from Podolski (pronounced po-dowel-ski) to the more pronounceable Dowel.
“He just felt it was easier for the children to say,” his wife noted.
The name change, however, was one of a series of events that delayed his receipt of the Purple Heart. The major setback came when the Chicago building where his military records were stored burned.
With Jim Dempsey, service officer to the Disabled American Veterans at the Ann Arbor VA Hospital, and U.S. Army Brig. Gen. Carol Ann Fausone, assistant adjunct general of Veterans Affairs for Michigan, taking up the cause, his family was eventually able to prove that Conrad Dowel was the Conrad Podolski who was so severely injured so many years ago in the service of his country.
“We were able to confirm it through records at the Japanese hospital where he was treated,” his wife said.
Upon learning this year that he’d finally receive his medal, Podolski-Dowel’s reaction was simple.
“My reaction?” he said. “Thank God.”
He and his wife lived for many years in Westland, raising two daughters, and moved to the Northville area five years ago.
Retired from his education career, Podolski-Dowel has become an accomplished wood carver. His works of bids and religious images decorate the couple’s condominium.
The latter images shouldn’t be surprising. Podolski-Dowel studied to become a Trappist monk and even spent a year in a Kentucky monastery before he volunteered for military duty.
“The reason I quit (the monastery) was allergies,” he said. “There were a lot of animals at the monastery, and I couldn’t be around them without getting sick. “
Sponsors of this year’s parade are thrilled that Podolski-Dowel will be participating.
“What better to way to honor our country than by honoring our veterans?” said Shari Peters of the Northville Community Foundation, which helps sponsor the parade.
The Purple Heart, created by George Washington and bearing his likeness, is awarded to military personnel who were wounded or killed in combat.
Podolski-Dowel isn’t the only member of his family to have been awarded the honor.
His older brother, Richard, of Washington Township, wounded in World War II, is also a recipient.
“Two brothers with Purple Hearts,” Bobbie Podolski-Dowel said. “Isn’t that something?”
Podolski-Dowel will be honored shortly after 9:30 a.m. Monday in front of Northville City Hall.
The parade will begin at 10 a.m. Additional parade information is available by calling the Community Foundation at 248-374-0200.