ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- It took 70 years, but U.S. Marine Cpl. Walt Filipek finally received his Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
Filipek, a veteran of the bloody Okinawa campaign of World War II, was presented with his long-lost medals at a special ceremony Monday at the Hansford Senior Center in St. Albans.
"I never saw them before in my life," the gregarious Marine said just before the ceremony, while hamming it up for TV cameras and soliciting hugs from every woman in sight.
Filipek, a daily visitor to the Hansford Center, told about 100 people that he had been talking with another Marine veteran about his military service, and found out he might be entitled to medals he didn't even know he had. Filipek was awarded the Purple Heart and Bronze Star for his actions on Okinawa, but through a bureaucratic snafu, the medals never arrived.
Filipek credits longtime friend Ellen Mills Pauley with starting the process of tracking down the two Purple Hearts and the Bronze Star Filipek knew he'd been awarded, plus other medals he didn't know about. Local and state officials enlisted the aid of Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va and Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. to make sure Filipek was finally given the medals he deserved.
Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, state National Guard adjutant general, pinned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart on Filipek. Hoyer said lawmakers in Washington could take a cue from the way West Virginians work together to help their veterans.
"Walt, I want to tell you, your generation, and the ones that followed in Korea and Vietnam, you're the reason I'm here," Hoyer said.
The Battle of Okinawa raged for almost three months in the spring of 1945, and was the fiercest, deadliest battle of the Pacific War.
"We hit the beach April Fool's Day 1945, and they weren't fooling," Filipek told the crowd.
Okinawa was an island a few hundred miles from the shores of Japan, which the Japanese had sworn to defend to the end. By the end of the battle, 100,000 Japanese soldiers, more than 60,000 Americans and hundreds of thousands of civilians would be casualties, including more than 12,000 American and about 75,000 Japanese dead. Within a few weeks, atomic bombs would be dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, and the Japanese would surrender.