Four months after D-Day, in the Allied campaign to run the Nazis out of southern France, Cpl. Joseph M. Paesch had nearly half his face blown off by shrapnel in a bloody battle for a key piece of ground.
He was left for dead when the Germans overran the Allied position. He probably would have died if American GIs hadn't retaken the area three days later and discovered a heartbeat in what they at first mistook for a corpse.
Mr. Paesch is exactly the type of former soldier the Maryland legislature had in mind in 1950 when it granted a property tax exemption to all World War II veterans who were 100 percent disabled as a result of a service-connected injury.
For years, though, Mr. Paesch never knew of the exemption. After buying his first house in Federal Hill in 1976 for $14,000, he faithfully paid property taxes to the city of Baltimore.
Now Mr. Paesch and his family want that money back, plus interest.
"Since my uncle has already paid his dues to his country, I believe he's owed whatever he has paid the city in property taxes," Mr. Paesch's nephew, William W. Dryden, told the Baltimore Board of Estimates last week.
Mr. Dryden said the state on Aug. 30 granted his uncle the tax exemption, but the statute of limitations on a refund of past taxes paid is only three years. He asked the board to refund the entire $11,669 in property taxes Mr. Paesch has paid since 1976 plus another $19,353 in compounded interest at 12 percent.
The Board of Estimates referred the matter to the city's legal department. City Solicitor Neal M. Janey said it is a routine matter for the city to refund taxes that have been wrongly paid, but he could not say how Mr. Paesch's case would be resolved until the facts have been reviewed.
The shrapnel wound Mr. Paesch suffered Sept. 27, 1944, resulted in the loss of an eye and part of his brain as well as severe facial deformity and epileptic seizures. He spent the rest of the war in military hospitals, finally being discharged from the Army on Jan. 31, 1946.
He came home with his medals -- two Bronze Stars, a Purple Heart and campaign ribbons -- got married and raised a family of five daughters and a son. He was declared 100 percent disabled by the Veterans Administration (VA) in 1951. It wasn't until the 1970s that Mr. Paesch, who had worked only at odd jobs, was able to stop renting and buy his family's first home.
"They were ecstatic when they got this house," the nephew said. "They had been renting it for years, then scraped up the money for a down payment when the man who owned it said he would sell." Today, the 70-year-old veteran has cancer and is in the VA Hospital in Baltimore. His family is trying to pay the mortgage and other family bills for him and his wife, Betty Jane, who has suffered two strokes in recent years.
Mr. Dryden, a certified public accountant for Wolpoff & Co., said he found out that his uncle shouldn't have been paying property taxes earlier this summer while trying to find a tax credit for lower-income homeowners.
"I put in an application for the exemption on Aug. 24, then I had to get a VA certificate of disability," said Mr. Dryden.
He said Mr. Paesch has been having a difficult time coming up with the money with which to make his monthly mortgage payment.
Mr. Dryden said the mortgage would have been paid off 10 years ago if what Mr. Paesch was paying in property taxes had been applied to the principal.
Robert Young, associate director of the Maryland Department of Assessments and Taxation, said he doesn't believe there are many cases like Mr. Paesch's.
He said state tax officials routinely talk to groups such as the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars to make sure they pass on information about the exemption to their members.
Mr. Young said VA adjudication officers who declare veterans 100 percent disabled also know about the World War II exemption and each year it also is mentioned in the Maryland income tax booklet.
"We feel we have reached the market," said Mr. Young.
He said 2,149 World War II veterans in Maryland are receiving the property tax exemption, including 188 in Baltimore, 253 in Baltimore County, 209 in Anne Arundel County, 49 in Howard County and 38 in Carroll County.