It was delayed 68 years, but Harold L. Choate finally has received the Silver Star for his heroism in World War II.
Choate died three years ago. He likely never knew about the medal, because the paperwork never caught up with him as he was rushed from a battlefield in Germany, to a hospital in England and then back stateside. Instead it was buried in the Army's archives.
The medal was presented Friday to his daughter, Judy Ekiert, and grandson, Jereme Ekiert, both of Richland, by Congressman Doc Hastings at American Legion Post 34 in Pasco.
The presentation was attended by about 50 members of the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars.
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Choate, who is buried in his hometown of Galax, Va., joined the Army in 1943 at age 17. He served in the 90th Infantry Division in Belgium, France and Germany.
"All he wanted to do was go and fight," Judy Ekiert said.
He was wounded Dec. 10, 1944, near Dillingen, Germany. His platoon was occupying a pillbox in the rear of a slaughterhouse when the enemy attacked with artillery and machine gun fire. He left the pillbox with his Browning Automatic Rifle and laid down covering fire for his comrades until he was hit by shrapnel. He was hit again as he was being evacuated.
"He was always the first in, usually the last out," Judy Ekiert said. "When his platoon was trapped, my father managed to deter the enemy long enough for them to retreat to a safe area."
Choate was blinded in his left eye and lost part of his right leg, leaving it about 2 inches shorter than his left, Judy Ekiert said. His wounds were so severe that he endured multiple surgeries for years afterward. Doctors never could get all of the metal out.
He was awarded two Purple Hearts for those injuries during World War II, but those medals have been lost over the years.
"You never heard him complain," Judy Ekiert said. "He always had that big grin on his face."
The grandson, Jereme Ekiert, served in the Army for three years as a paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division. While researching his grandfather's wartime service, looking for information on the sergeant who pulled him off the battlefield, he found the long-lost citation for the Silver Star.
"We knew some of his war stories and being both infantrymen, my father and Jereme had a lot in common and talked a lot," Judy Ekiert said. "So many soldiers didn't talk about what they did during the war, but my father did, just not the bravery part. He was a devoted American, the best you'd ever find, a total patriot."
Once the validity of the family's claim was established, Jereme Ekiert asked Hastings to make the presentation.
"It's truly an honor to be here today," Hastings said before reading Choate's citation for bravery.
Bruce Rick of Prosser, commander of American Legion District 12, said it's important to recognize Choate's valor, even though almost seven decades have passed.
"All of us here know what it takes to receive a Silver Star," Rick told the Herald. "Presentations like this mean a lot to families, it gives them a sense of pride. They can tell their kids, their grandkids this is what our family stands for, what this country means to us."