Martin Medellin, 88, went to his VFW post Thursday for a fundraising dinner for the Central Valley Honor Flight. He had no idea he was actually attending a ceremony to honor him with an award almost 70 years after his war injury.
Medellin finally received his Purple Heart 69 years, two months and six days after being shot by a German sniper on the French battlefield.
"It feels great," Medellin said. "It's really amazing. I won't be around too much longer I don't think, but my son will have it."
Medellin's VFW post secretly planned the ceremony after his friend, and fellow veteran A. Michael DeCesare wrote nearly two dozen letters to lawmakers, which went nowhere. Eight months later he tracked down long-buried paperwork to keep his promise and get the Purple Heart for his friend.
"If anybody deserved it, he did," DeCesare said. "His problem was, he was treated by a field medic, not a hospital. So records are almost zero in that case. It was a worthy cause, it was a good cause." Medellin served in the army for seven years. In that time he received several awards, including the Silver Star Medal, the second highest military decoration for valor. His battle injury came as he rescued 283 soldiers trapped by machine gunfire.
"I said Pete, I'm hit," Medellin said. "So he retreat back and turned me over and my clothes were all torn. The bullet went in through [my shoulder] and came out."
Even Medellin's family had no idea this would be celebrated Thursday.
"He'd always say, well one of these days maybe before I die, I'll get my& metal he got today," his daughter Toni Medellin-Walterman said. "That's the only metal he's missing."
The Madera VFW post will host an actual fundraising dinner for the Central Valley Honor Flight on March 20.