WWII Decorated Veteran Celebrates His 97th Birthday
We Salute Sunnyside Manor Resident Walter “Rookie” Pruiksma
Walter “Rookie” Pruiksma, a WWII veteran and Sunnyside Manor resident, recently celebrated his 97th birthday on July 26th. Like many Sunnyside Manor residents, Walter’s life has been filled with stories of adventure, achievement, and selflessness. Many were recently surprised to learn that we have a bona fide war hero among our ranks. Walter was decorated by both the United States and France for his acts of bravery during World War II!
A Young Soldier
At age 20, Walter was drafted into the U.S. Army in September 1943. By February, he was sailing to Great Britain with his unit, D Company, 783rd Military Police Battalion. Four days after D-Day, Walter was one of the first military police officers (MP) on the shores of Normandy and was tasked with setting up traffic control points, processing prisoners of war, and establishing a cargo supply highway.
Shortly after arriving at the unit headquarters in Sainte-Marie-du-Mont, Normandy, the most defining mission of his military career unfolded, which he dubbed a “Mission of Mercy.”
A Mission of Mercy
On June 12, 1944, a young French man approached the military unit seeking help for his mother. His mother was wounded when a grenade was thrown into their home by a German soldier on D-Day. She needed help quickly and the young man asked the unit to help him take his mother to a hospital.
While his commanding officer felt the mission was too dangerous and risky to officially assign soldiers, he said he would accept volunteers. Walter knew immediately he was meant to help and volunteered. He thought of his own mother at home, and how he would want someone to help her. Another MP from his unit, Cecil Morris, volunteered to join him for the mission.
A Journey Through No Man’s Land
Walter and Cecil left Sainte-Marie-du-Mont at 1 a.m. using a two-wheeled horse-drawn cart to transport the injured woman and her son to a hospital in Carentan, a small rural town. The 12-mile trip would lead them through no man’s land. This was a risky mission.
The two soldiers and their civilian caravan carefully walked the streets to Carentan and arrived at the hospital gate without problems. A man answered the gate and nuns took the injured woman into the hospital. Walter and Cecil returned to Sainte-Marie-du-Mont without knowing the name of the woman, or her fate. Walter completed his service in WWII, before returning home to the United States.
Closing the Chapter
For decades, Walter avoided talking about his experience in WWII, but after reading a book about Normandy began to wonder how the rest of the story unfolded for the young man and his mother. He started writing letters to mayors in and around Carentan, hoping to find answers.
After several attempts to find the French family, Walter was able to connect with the woman’s daughter, Madeleine Tourainne. Tourainne shared her mother died from an infection shortly after her arrival at the hospital, however her daughter and family were grateful for his act of kindness. Tourainne and Walter exchanged several letters recalling memories from that night and how it impacted their lives.
A Soldier’s Long Overdue Honor
In 2016, the French government recognized Walter’s bravery with the Legion of Honor, the country’s highest recognition. Then, in 2018, the U.S. Military Police Regimental Association presented him with the Order of the Marechaussee medallion in Silver. The Marechausse is the highest honor an MP can receive and recognizes exceptional dedication and contribution to the MP Corps.
At Sunnyside Manor, we celebrate and honor Walter “Rookie” Pruiksma on both his 97th birthday and his selfless act of bravery in WWII!
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Sunnyside Manor, located in Wall NJ, is the area’s premier senior living community. It features three distinctive neighborhoods: Independence ‘Plus’ Assisted Living, Recollections Memory Care and Skilled Nursing and Rehabilitation.