The last time Orval Radtke saw all of his children under one roof, Lyndon B. Johnson was president.
But on Sunday, all the kids came to Spokane and watched as a U.S. Congressman gave their 81-year-old dad medals he’d earned 53 years ago during World War II - medals a daughter spent 21 years trying to get.
They came from Kentucky. They came from Oklahoma. One of them came from Kuwait.
“It’s my dad. I wouldn’t have missed it for the world,” said Dennis Radtke, who traveled 33 hours from the desert nation to see this.
Orval Radtke was a father with one daughter and a son on the way when he scrambled onto a Normandy beach during D-Day in 1944. He remembers the smell of gunpowder, the German flares burning in the morning darkness. The water was full of bodies. Amphibious landing vehicles ground them up trying to get ashore.
He survived. He didn’t talk about it.
He went about his life, raising eight kids and working for decades as an auto mechanic. Those things kept his mind off what he had seen. He kept the war to himself until a beautiful Fourth of July evening in 1976.
He was sitting on the back porch of his youngest daughter’s house. He started twisting the rings on his fingers and talking. He talked for four hours without pause.
“He never stuttered once, never missed a beat that whole four hours,” his daughter, Tina, said. “I wouldn’t get up because I was so fascinated by what he was saying, scared by what he was saying. The things he said to me I will never forget.”
After the war, Radtke was so anxious to get home he never picked up the medals he had earned in Europe - a Good Conduct medal, a sharpshooter badge, an Honorable Service lapel button, a WWII Victory medal and others.
But Tina wanted him to have the awards. Two days after hearing her father’s story, she flopped open a phone book, looked up Fairchild Air Force Base and called the first number she saw.
She says she talked excitedly for 20 minutes before the man on the other end got a chance to speak. It was the base barber.
Over the years, Tina sent letters and made phone calls and got advice from customers at Bong’s Oriental Garden restaurant where she works. Nothing helped.
Early this year, she contacted the staff of Rep. George Nethercutt and asked for help. Within months, they had the medals. She picked them up in August and set about planning a party where she could present them to her dad.
All her siblings - some of whom she hadn’t spoken with in years - said they’d come.
“I about fell off the seat I was sitting in,” she said “Never in my wildest dreams did I think this was going to happen.”
But there they were on Sunday, showering a father with love, a soldier with respect. They watched as Nethercutt praised their father for his service.
There was Patty Mae Romans, the oldest at 55. There was Ronald Radtke, who works for a railroad, and Sonia Cox, a nurse. There was Beverly Phillips, a mother, and John Radtke, a contractor. David, the mechanic, and Dennis, the technical adviser on tanks, were there. There were grandchildren and great grandchildren and a chaos of friends.
And Tina Phillips, the youngest, stood at the back of the room and cried.
Nethercutt gave Radtke medals, praise and a handshake. The congressman gave Radtke’s wife, Lyla, a bouquet of red roses.
“We never did have enough to help them,” Radtke said of his children. “They had to make their own way. They turned out to be a good bunch of kids, a really good bunch of kids.”
, DataTimes ILLUSTRATION: 2 Photos (1 Color)