Robert S. White received a Bronze Star on Tuesday during a short ceremony at the Hampton VA Medical Center, more than 70 years after he helped liberate Europe from the Nazis.
White didn't seem to mind. In fact, he was stunned by the attention -- a cake, well-wishers, TV cameras, even a congressman.
He figured Uncle Sam would mail him a Bronze Star and he'd resume his busy life.
White has been married for 72 years and had five children. He worked as a sheet metal mechanic at Newport News Shipbuilding for nearly four decades. He's run nine marathons. He is 94 years old and last jogged on Monday, the usual three miles.
The secret to longevity? Clean living and a steady diet of "beans, greens and sweet potatoes," he says.
So he hasn't exactly been sitting around and waiting for his Bronze Star to arrive. In fact, he only realized his eligibility several years ago.
With the help of friends at the Hampton VA, the Disabled American Veterans Chapter 13 of York County and Rep. Scott Taylor, the wheels went into motion.
It culminated in Tuesday's ceremony.
"I never dreamed it was going to be this big," White said, looking around the room. "It's a shock to me."
Army Pvt. 1st Class White fought across Northern Europe in 1944-1945 with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment. He served as a communications lineman.
The unit was involved in climactic offensives that heralded the beginning of the end of World War II, including the Battle of the Bulge.
A native of Leland, N.C., White saw the worst of the Nazi war machine, helping to liberate a forced labor camp near Essen, Germany. He came upon starving prisoners and remembers a concrete wall pock-marked with bullet holes "where they mowed them down."
He served from 1943 to 1946 and moved to Hampton Roads in 1951.
At the Hampton VA, White belongs to a group of World War II and Korean War veterans who talk about post-traumatic stress disorder.
Carlson Pendleton, a clinical therapist and Vietnam War veteran, facilitates the group. He didn't talk about White's case specifically but said it can be difficult for veterans to seek help.
The tough-it-out attitude in the armed forces can discourage some people from coming forward.
"That's probably the worst advice to give anybody," he said. "It's the same thing with any kind of emotional condition. If you deny it, it doesn't go anywhere. You have to confront it."
White's service earned praise from J. Ronald Johnson, Hampton VA Medical Center director.
"Every day, frankly, even though we don't know it, we have heroes in our midst," Johnson said.
Taylor said he jumped at the chance to assist when his office learned of White's case. He credited Pendleton along with Terry Bohlinger, commander and chapter service office of DAV Chapter 13, with moving things forward.
Bohlinger said the impetus was a newspaper article that said those who earned the Combat Infantry Badge or Combat Medical Badge during World War II could also receive a Bronze Star.
White had earned the Combat Infantry Badge, and from there, it was a matter of applying.
Within a few weeks, the medal arrived in Rep. Taylor's office, Bohlinger said.
This article is written by Hugh Lessig from Daily Press (Newport News, Va.) and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.