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World War II vet associated with VA Bible dispute dies

Airman 1st Class Melony McGreevy shakes hands with former U.S. Army Air Corps Tech. Sgt. Herman ‘Herk’ Streitburger, Pease Air National Guard Base, New Hampshire, Oct. 3, 2015. Streitbuger, a prisoner of war during World War II, spoke to Airman about being shot down, surviving a prisoner of war camp and his eventual escape. (U.S. Air Natonal Guard photo by Staff Sgt. Curtis J. Lenz)

The World War II veteran whose Bible launched on ongoing First Amendment legal battle over its inclusion in a POW/MIA display at the Manchester VA Medical Center died last Friday at a Manchester nursing home.

Bedford resident Herman C. “Herk” Streitburger was about a month short of his 101st birthday, according to his Union Leader obituary. His daughter said he had recently suffered a heart attack and pnemonia and had expected to return home in a week from the Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation and Nursing Center.

Although the facility is undergoing a COVID-19 outbreak, he did not have the disease, said Kim Streitburger. Her father at breakfast in the morning, and staff found his body while making rounds.

Streitburger was shot down in a bombing mission over German-occupied territory in 1944. He shared his story of angry mobs, prisoner of war camps, starvation, forced marches and a harrowing escape to local school children and the media.

“From a child, I had discipline,” Streitburger told the Union Leader last year. “I always attributed a lot of that to my survival.”

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A Catholic, Streitburger donated his Bible two years ago to a “missing man” display that honors POWs and MIAs at the Manchester VA Clinic.

That is now part of a legal challenge in federal court, filed by the Military Religious Freedom Foundation. The VA first removed the Bible, then returned it to the display when other veterans complained.

Vice President Mike Pence eventually became involved, telling an American Legion conference: “My message to the Manchester VA hospital is, the Bible stays.” Pence also inaccurately claimed that Streitburger carried the bible into World War II. Streitburger received the Bible from his mother after the war.

The case is onging in U.S. District Court. A status report is expected in late July.

The controversy had pained Streitburger, according to last year’s article.

The missing man display honors “those who are still missing and those who have died, especially if they died in captivity,” he said then. And he said his Bible wasn’t meant to represent any particular religion.

“It wasn’t about a Christian bible, it was about veterans having the faith and how important it was when they were at war,” Jill Streitburger said.

Streitburger was born in Philadelphia and settled in Long Island, N.Y., after the war, where he raised a family of four children, according to his obituary.

He and his wife moved to Bedford in 1967, and his family includes seven grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. He died Friday at Mt. Carmel Rehabilitation Center.

In 2012, the Merrimack Valley chapter of SCORE, a group of volunteer business advisers, honored Streitburger for serving 25 years as a mentor to small businesses.

Streitburger’s post-war career was in the beer industry, working for the long-gone Rheingold and Knickerbocker brands.

“There are so many pitfalls along the road. Any money you have, you’ve earned through blood, sweat and tears,” he told the Union Leader at the SCORE meeting. “And you’ve got to find out how you protect that money.”

His daughter said Streitburger will be buried at the New Hampshire State Veterans Cemetery at Boscawen. Only 10 people can attend the ceremony.

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© 2020 The New Hampshire Union Leader