FORT BENNING, Ga. -- A former U.S. Marine and World War II veteran was honored May 11 during a medal presentation almost 70 years in the making. Decades after his service during World War II, former Marine Pfc. James Lett was presented with the Medal in Commemoration of Victory in the Resistance Against Aggression prior to Detachment 1402 of the Marine Corps League's meeting at the U.S. Marine Corps Detachment Barracks on Fort Benning. Lett was 15 when he ran away from his home in Columbus to join the Marine Corps. Despite his age, Lett was determined to find a way into the corps. "An old sergeant told me to go have my mother or father sign for me and he would let me in even though I was lying about my age," Lett said. "So, I went and found a man on the street and paid him five dollars to sign my paperwork."
After basic training, Lett eventually was sent to New Guinea during World War II, where he suffered a leg injury. Despite that injury, he volunteered for a transport mission when a driver was needed to deliver ammunition to the front lines. "They needed truck drivers to drive ammunition to the Southern tip of New Guinea," Lett said. "The Japanese had broken the lines and were coming from both ways. I could walk with a crutch, but I could still drive, so I volunteered to drive an Army truck full of ammo down through the jungles of New Guinea, and we had firefights all along." After leaving New Guinea, Lett eventually returned home to the U.S. before choosing to serve in China, where his service as part of the "China Marines" helped him to earn the medal he was presented with May 11. "Every Marine wanted to be a China Marine," Lett said. "There isn't one I've ever talked to that hasn't said he wished he had served in China just so he could be a China Marine. I had points enough to stay at home, but I wanted to go, so I went back because I wanted to go to China." Despite that service, Lett was mistakenly overlooked when the Chinese government began issuing the medals in October 1946. It was not until a few months ago that Lett's peers in the Marine Corps league began the process of helping Lett get the medal he deserved. "One of our members saw an article in Semper Fi magazine about the medal, and from there we just ran with the ball," said Robert King, commandant of detachment 1402. "We did all the research and got all the information and we saw that he was qualified. He deserves this medal." King said he was proud to have been part of the effort that eventually got the medal into Lett's hands. "James Lett is a living piece of history," King said. "He went through World War II, and he deserves all the accolades he can get. I'm happy he's still alive to enjoy this moment." The medal, also known as the China War Memorial Medal, was established by the Republic of China in 1944 and first issued in October 1946. It was authorized for issue to all members of the U.S. Armed Forces and others who assisted the Chinese in their fight against Japan. It was awarded to both military and civilian personnel who were directly involved in the war effort and who served in mainland China, Burma, Vietnam or Thailand for at least 30 days between Dec. 8, 1941, and Sept. 2, 1945.