Betsy Tonihka seeks Medal of Honor for father 4-15-07

IDABEL, Okla. (AP) - Pvt. Theodore Tonihka was shot three times by enemy machine gun fire as he dragged two others to safety during World War II. His daughter believes that act of bravery deserves the country's highest military honor.

Working with U.S. Rep. Dan Boren's office, Betsy Tonihka has prepared an information packet to send the Defense Department with a request to upgrade her father's Silver Star to a Medal of Honor.

The creation of the packet, which awaits its finishing touches in Boren's Washington office, is the culmination of a 15year quest by Betsy Tonihka and her brother to get their father the honor they believe he rightly deserves.

``My dad has a medal, he just has the wrong medal,'' she said. ``I'm not giving up. My dad is deserving of this.''

John Tonihka, Betsy's brother, started pursuing the medal with a letter to thenstate Sen. Jim Inhofe's office asking why his father hadn't received the medal when he'd been told he was recommended for it. He suggested that his father's recommendation may have been overlooked because he was a fullblooded member of the Choctaw tribe.

Betsy Tonihka, a hair stylist in Idabel, took over for her brother after he became ill a few years ago. She sought out a report from the morning after her father ran through machine gun fire to save two men who were shot while trying to secure a group of homes in Italy on April 19, 1945.

The report describes his actions as ``selfless gallantry that exemplifies the highest traditions of the American soldier.''

``I know he didn't do it for a medal,'' Betsy Tonihka said. ``But I want people to know that the military does what's right and fair. I want people to know my dad was appreciated.''

Tonihka's father was honorably discharged from the Army and came back to Oklahoma before leaving again to attend Moody Bible Institute in Chicago. He later taught at the institute and was a foreman at a steel mill.

He died at age 54, when Betsy was 9 years old. Family members believe a small Bible he carried in his hip pocket during the war may have saved his life by absorbing the impact of a bullet that hit him.

``He was really a strongwilled man,'' Tonihka said. ``I can't remember him ever raising his voice. He was a very religious man.''

Along with the report she obtained, the Pentagon's awards division will review letters from the family and recommendations for Theodore Tonihka to receive the Medal of Honor before making their decision.

``We're proceeding cautiously to make sure we get everything right,'' said Nick Choate, a spokesman for Boren's office. ``We're making sure we're dotting all our Is and crossing all our Ts. It's not like we can redo it if we mess something up.''