Michigan World War II Vet Receives Purple Heart 75 Years After Combat Injury

The Purple Heart Medal. (AP Photo)
The Purple Heart Medal. (AP Photo)

DEARBORN, Mich. -- Behind the 98-year-old Marine Corps veteran's gentle smile is a man who knows the horror of war.

During one of the last and bloodiest battles of World War II, the Battle of Okinawa, Anthony "Tony" Procassini was pinned down with fellow soldiers, praying the Japanese shelling would miss.

It did, but not by much. He suffered a blast concussion from a nearby explosion on May 14, 1945 and spent weeks in the infirmary.

Seventy-five years later, inside the dimly lit Fort Dearborn American Legion Post at 5 p.m. Friday, July 12, he left his cane and ever-present University of Michigan baseball cap at his table. He slowly walked to the podium.

More than 25 relatives, some grandchildren who traveled from Colorado, California and Texas, watched proudly as Lt. Col. John C. Gianopoulos of the 24th Marine Regiment 1st Battalion at Selfridge Air National Guard Base pinned a small purple medal to the lapel of Procassin's black sport coat.

Some in attendance yelled, "Oorah," the U.S. Marine battle cry.

"What was to be a small affair has turned into a large event," Procassini said from the podium, after joking that his acceptance speech consisted of 15 pages.

"I'm sorry that Dawn, my wife of 74 years, couldn't be here to share this moment with us," said Procassini, whose wife died last year. "We know the process of 75 years was a long time, but it was worth the effort because it gave me the opportunity to share the results with my grandchildren.

" ... What I say is Semper Fi and God Bless America."

Following the war, Procassini submitted paperwork to receive his Purple Heart, a medal given to injured or slain soldiers since the days of George Washington, but it never came.

Life moved on.

Procassini and his wife made a home in Ann Arbor, where Procassini graduated from the University of Michigan, and they raised eight daughters and a son. Today, Procassini has 18 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

He started a business career, during which he spent 28 years with Bendix Corporation before starting his own company. He retired at 93.

A rabid UM Wolverines fan, for nearly 63 years Procassini volunteered to work the sidelines at football games. The maize and blue UM cap he wears is a fixture, said his daughter, Linda Binder.

"He's one of those guys that will teach you respect throughout your entire life," said Procassini's grandson, 22-year-old Andrew Bullard, who flew in for the ceremony from Flower Mound, Texas. "You don't speak over somebody, you respect your elders, anything like that.

"He's one of the wittiest people I've ever met, and honestly, he's one of the kindest guys I've met, too."

Prior to the start of Friday's ceremony, Procassini, with his cane in hand, circled a table of veterans shaking hands with men, all in their 90s, some who battled alongside him in the Pacific during World War II.

"There are not a lot of Americans who have smelled the taint of blood, whether it is their own or the enemies, and have smelled the Cordite, the sweat and the fear of battle," U.S. Marine Sgt. Major Adam Ruiz said during the medal presentation. "I'd like to say thank you to those veterans who know that."

Relatives, friends and veterans took turns writing notes to Procassini on a red U.S. Marine flag emblazoned with "Semper Fi" in yellow letters.

"You will never know the impact your life has had on thousands of people," read one message.

U.S. Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Dearborn, and Sen. Gary Peters, were among the elected officials in attendance.

"All of you are of a generation who love this country," Dingell said. "We're not Republicans or Democrats. We're Americans.

"You knew what Democracy meant. You went to fight for it ... and it's here today because of you."

This article is written by Gus Burns from MLive.com, Walker, Mich. and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.

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