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Remembering Purple Heart Veteran Louis Rowehl, 92

Patriot served in the Army, Hicksville and Mt. Sinai Fire Departments

Louis Rowehl, a Hicksville potato farmer, firefighter, St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church member and World War II Purple Heart recipient, died on Feb. 24 at 92 years old.

“I had a marvelous relationship with him. I’m impressed I spent time with such a marvelous soul,” said John Graham, a friend of Rowehl’s for 23 years and fellow firefighter in Mt. Sinai.

Graham recalls Rowehl as a “glorious guy” with “bright, brilliant blue eyes,” who, in his childhood when he worked on a Hicksville potato farm, slept in the coldest room in the house with his brothers.

“He worked hard on that farm, learned hard work and sacrifice, because that’s what they were about. He was as honest as the day was long,” said Graham.

When he was approximately 16, Rowehl and some friends drove to Freeport and signed up for the National Guard. With the advent of World War II, Rowehl was assigned to General Patton’s tank division, the 802 Tank Destroyer Batallion, and landed at Utah Beach in Normandy, France in June 1944.

“I remember him telling me that the pontoons in his jeep weren’t working correctly … it sank to the bottom of the ocean as they were hitting the beach. He said, ‘I was in so much trouble,’ and to hear that from a 90-year-old man, it’s just, wow,” said Graham.

Rowehl survived but left the war with two pieces of shrapnel in his back and shoulder. He relocated to Mt. Sinai to work on a sod farm and soon joined the Mt. Sinai Fire Department in 1968.

“When he came out here, people would tell me in the neighborhood, they’d see an orange or green dust cloud in the field, and that was Lou, driving the tractor,” said Graham.

Janis Henderson, a veteran and Mt. Sinai firefighter, found strength in Rowehl, even though his may have been fleeting.

“He was my hero, in many ways, because of his being a firefighter for so long, his Purple Heart in the Army. Being a veteran, I know what kind of courage it takes to get that award. As I watched him in his last days, I also saw that courage,” said Henderson, who served as a Marine during the Vietnam War.

“He struggled over the last few years. I was privileged to be involved with him. His mind was sharp as a tack, but his body wore out. He struggled to get up but he always got up, he always had that moxie.

“God will raise you up on eagle’s wings, bear you on the breath of dawn, make you to shine like the sun … I thought that’s really a fitting ending to a eulogy to a man who actually allowed me to transform my outlook on life, because that’s the kind of influence he had,” Graham added.

Rowehl was buried Feb. 28 in Calverton National Cemetery with military honors, transported on a pumper, per his wishes, with a firematic escort.

“It was awesome. Lou would’ve loved it,” said Henderson.