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Post helps veteran in quest for medal

The American Legion post chaplain, as a 13-year-old boy, came up with the idea to use dummy paratroopers to confuse German troops.

By RON MATUS, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 18, 2002


For 40 years, Bob Becker has waged a lonely battle to get himself a Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Now fresh troops are coming to his aid.

Fellow veterans at American Legion Post 5 on Kennedy Boulevard are mobilizing to get Becker, the post chaplain, a national honor for an idea he offered as a 13-year-old boy.

Becker, 73, says he was the inspiration for dummy paratroopers -- decoys that fooled German troops during the Normandy Invasion in 1944 and perhaps saved thousands of American lives.

He has a government receipt for his notion, but not a medal.

He figures he deserves one. So does Post 5.

"I feel real bad for him," said post spokesman Buz Barbour. "If you were to pull 15 or 20 people out of a burning building and nobody recognized your effort . . . "

Last month, members of Post 5 guided a resolution through the state legion chapter supporting Becker. Post 5 hopes the national chapter, with 3-million members, will flex its muscle.

Becker, a U.S. Navy veteran, joined MetLife after leaving the service and retired 43 years later as a fraud investigator. He and his wife, Joyce, moved to Tampa in 1971. They live in Town 'N Country.

Becker's story isn't new.

In 1942, he was a farm boy in Germantown, N.Y., when he saw government posters asking for inventions that could lead Americans to victory.

Becker sketched a life-like figure hanging from a parachute, dressed like a soldier, complete with firecrackers that would look like guns being fired.

He mailed the sketch and got a postcard-sized receipt in return.

On the front it lists Becker's name; the date, Sept. 5, 1942; and the subject: "DUMMY PARACHUTE TROOPS."

On the back it says: "For reasons of national security it may not be possible to report the progress . . . of your suggestion."

Becker moved on. Only in 1959, as he was reading a book about D-Day, did he find out dummy paratroopers had been used at Normandy, a pivotal battle in World War II.

The dummies, dropped behind enemy lines, diverted German troops from the beach invasion, military historians say.

Becker's quest began.

He wrote letter after letter to government officials, telling them he was the guy who dreamed up the decoys.

One return letter, from the Department of Defense in 1975, told Becker he was "among those" who submitted the idea.

The official said the government was grateful, and he thanked Becker for his "patriotic spirit" but didn't mention a medal.

Becker wasn't satisfied. He insists he's not out to glorify himself, but to inspire kids with a story about a 13-year-old's initiative.

"Forget it's me," he said.

Becker convinced several U.S. senators to make calls or write letters on his behalf. U.S. Rep. Jim Davis of Tampa even asked President Clinton to consider Becker for the Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian award.

Nothing happened.

Earlier this month, the National Archives and Records Administration told Becker by letter that it could not find his file.

Some records for the now-defunct National Inventors Council, to which Becker mailed his drawing, are missing, the agency said.

Becker said he's frustrated, not bitter.

When he's not waging his Don Quixote-like campaign, he and his wife work with a Braille ministry. They translate Bibles into different languages.

His peers at the post are giving him new strength.

They have outlined his plight in veterans publications and on the post Web site.

They're also collecting information the national chapter said it needs to proceed.

The American Legion is about veterans taking care of veterans, Barbour said. And Becker is "one of our own."

Anyone interested in helping can call the post at 870-0505.

-- Ron Matus can be reached at 226-3405 or matus@sptimes.com.

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