Merced WWII Vet honored with Purple Heart over 70 years later

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On April 1, 1945, US Marines landed on the Japanese island of Okinawa and Marine Private First Class William Cecil Stephens was there. Now 90-years-old, he fought for weeks until being wounded in the final push to take the island. (KFSN)

A special ceremony was held in Merced Friday to honor a World War II veteran, who finally received his Purple Heart.

On April 1, 1945, US Marines landed on the Japanese island of Okinawa and Marine Private First Class William Cecil Stephens was there. Now 90-years-old, he fought for weeks until being wounded in the final push to take the island. "Yeah, I got shrapnel in the leg," Stephens said. "My sergeant got shot right in front of me, and I was helping him when the shells came in.

Stephens was recommended for a Purple Heart, but the medal never came. "I forgot all about it until my nephew and niece started checking into it awhile back," Stephens explained.

His niece Joan Bippus obtained his military records. "And in there I found letters from the government to him saying that he was entitled to a purple heart," she said.

The medal finally came, delivered by UPS, and left at his door at the retirement home where he lives.

The home manager Debra Yerger thought that was pretty undignified. "It broke my heart because here's someone who gave their life to protect us and was wounded for us, it was kind of like a slap in the face," Yerger explained.

So, she arranged this ceremony, that brought his family and friends together, to honor his service.

Stephens's glad to get the medal. "If feels good and everything," he said. "Kind of late and everything."

While recovering in the hospital from his wounds on Okinawa, the war ended. Stephens was then sent to China to help remove the last Japanese forces left scattered there. Then,
it was back to Merced, where he married his high school sweetheart and went to work as a mechanic for Merced County.

This ceremony was welcome, but Stephens said it brought back memories of a bloody time he'd rather not remember, "I try to forget about it," he said quietly.

Related Topics:
good newsWorld War IIveteranmerced countypurple heartMerced
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