War Hero’s Son Says Father ‘Deserves a Ceremony’ at His Funeral
It's been six decades since Walter "Bunkey" Prandstatter was awarded a Bronze Star for his heroic actions during the Korean War. Now, just days after the veteran's death, his son is on a mission of make sure his father is laid to rest with military honors at his memorial service.
Guy Prandstatter said his father didn't leave many instructions as far as services were concerned, but the family plans to have him cremated and spread his remains at a place he loved in New York. He said the veteran had no money, estate or insurance and few close relatives. As they come to grips with his death, Guy said the family is finding it difficult to find an honor guard or veterans group to conduct a small ceremony at his father's memorial service.
"I think he deserves a ceremony," his son said, adding that his father's experiences, and heroism during the Korean War was traumatic and he thinks it would be fitting for a contingent of veterans or active servicemen to help them bid farewell.
In fact, they've held out on scheduling the services until they can find a military group willing to be present. Guy Prandstatter has filed paperwork through the Department of Veterans Affairs but has yet to get a response.
It's often said that war changes a man, and Prandstatter was no exception, his son said.
"He came home and he was really, really messed up," Guy Prandstatter said of his father, who he said died peacefully on May 27 at age 83.
The U.S. Marine, who was originally from Union City then moved to Garfield, served in the Korean War from 1952-53. Prandstatter said his father was sent home from combat prematurely following the incident which led to him being awarded the Bronze Star.
The troops, facing combat, were sheltered in a foxhole. Under heavy fire, Prandstatter said his dad and two others "were blown out of the foxhole" in into a section of barbed wire. At that point, the New Jersey native rushed to the aid of the other two Marines, pulling them to safety. Prandstatter was barely 20 years old when the horrific incident took place, and his son says it left him with lifelong psychological damage.
"It was clear that he wasn't all there after this happened, so they sent him back stateside," Guy Prandstatter said.
Prandstatter finished out the remainder of his service in the Marines and was sent home having achieved the rank of corporal, but for him, the battle wasn't over. Guy said his father faced alcohol problems and a nervous breakdown, all as a result of the horrors he faced during the war.
Eventually, Prandstatter met a woman named Barbara McComace, who would one day become his wife. Together, they had three sons including Guy, and a daughter Barbara had prior to meeting the war hero. But Prandstatter's demons continued to resurface, tearing the family apart. Guy said he hasn't seen his other two brother's since he was 4 years old.
"He never completely came back" from what happened to him in the war and was eventually awarded complete disability from the Department of Veterans Affairs, Guy said, adding that the healing process was always ongoing for his father.
It took some time, Guy Prandstatter said, but eventually, his father "returned to the picture" and the family built a strong bond. Prandstatter, his wife and three children would spend Sundays with his father, who for the past several years has been wheelchair bound, living in a veterans home in Paramus.
In addition to spending time with his grandchildren, Guy said his father was a real "people person."
"He was a really charming, really suave kind of guy," his son said.
Guy Prandstatter said for his father, sobriety had become a big part of his life. He was involved in Alcoholics Anonymous and was also active with veterans affairs. Guy said in recent years, he had taken his father to several reunions of Marines he served with in the 1950s.
"That was the highlight of his life," Guy Prandstatter said of his father.
He believed the reunions along with spending time with his grandkids "really added years to his life."
Guy said he's not looking for a huge military funeral for his father - just a simple ceremony that will help the family honor the man who he believes is a hero.
"Whatever we do," he said, "it will be for us."