Brener awarded Purple Heart

Son wishes honor wasn’t posthumous
Tim Ryan,

It took nearly seven decades, but on July 2, the U.S. Army finally acknowledged its longstanding debt to a young soldier from Shawano wounded during the waning days of World War II. Pvt. Donald “Buck” Brener — an 18-year-old graduate of the Shawano High School Class of 1944 — was injured by a tank shell in Nazi Germany in April 1945. For reasons unclear, Brener was never awarded the Purple Heart for his injury or the Bronze Star awarded to all combat veterans in the European theater by Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower. He survived the war and died on Nov. 5, 1995, of a heart attack at home in Apple River, Ill. Though he never saw his Purple Heart or Bronze Star in his lifetime, Brener already had the Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Ribbon, European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars and a World War II Victory Medal. But he seldom discussed the war or his medals, never joined the VFW or attended reunions. His son, Scott Brener, said he thinks his father suffered from “shell-shock” or what today would be called post-traumatic stress disorder. “I think being 18-19 and living through that war was an unimaginable horror,” Scott said. In 2000, Scott’s mother handed him an envelope packed with photos of his father from 1945. “As a tribute, I built a website based on the stories he had told me,” Scott said. “When the site was new I used to get a great many visitors and emails,” he said. “One of them suggested I try to get Don the Purple Heart he seemed to have earned. So I started my own search and that escalated into a mission to get Don something he deserved.” Scott said he can only guess as to why his father never got his Purple Heart. “It might have happened because once he got back to the states he transferred to another division and the paperwork didn’t follow him,” Scott said. “But he should have really gotten it before he left the hospital in Germany.” The fact that Brener was never actually discharged from the hospital might also have been a factor. “He had told me they were going to send him home and he went AWOL from the hospital to rejoin his unit,” Scott said. “I really don’t know, and there’s no one left to ask.” Brener returned to duty and his unit of the 8th Infantry Division later assisted with the liberation of the concentration camp at Wobbelin shortly before Germany surrendered. Scott spent five years researching the history and trying to piece together enough evidence to prove that his father should have been awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star. The research was complicated by a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center at the National Archives in St. Louis that destroyed approximately 16-18 million official military personnel files. Scott ultimately hired a historian to track down a key piece of missing evidence — a history of his father’s 8th Infantry Division unit. The U.S. Army Board for Correction of Military Records entered the medals into the record on July 2 and sent them to Scott. The victory was satisfying, but bittersweet. “It would have been more satisfying if he was here to know,” Scott said.