World War II veteran Robert Giron, 93, stood at attention when Fort Bliss Commander Maj. Gen. Sean MacFarland presented him Thursday with the Bronze Star medal, which Giron should have received in 1944.
The former Army infantryman was joined at the Underwood Golf Complex in Northeast El Paso, Texas, for the ceremony by relatives and soldiers of the Army Sergeants Major Academy. U.S. Congressman Beto O'Rourke also participated in the presentation.
"I am a proud soldier," said Giron, a former private first class who served in Europe during the Battle of the Bulge. His unit, the 319th Infantry Regiment, 80th Division, was part of the Third Army commanded by the legendary Gen. George S. Patton Jr..
According to the announcement officials read at the ceremony, the medal was awarded for "exceptionally meritorious service during World War II. (Giron's) actions are in keeping with the finest tradition of military service and reflect great credit upon him, the 80th Division and the United States Army."
A shortage of manpower during World War II led to a draft, and Giron was among the draftees trained and sent to Europe for battle. He was wounded during the war, and previously received the Purple Heart.
Army Master Sgt. Ray Myers, 38, of Fayetteville, N.C., was among the soldiers who congratulated Giron.
"It's a great opportunity to get a well-deserved award to a World War II vet," said Myers, a veteran of the war in Iraq. "Even though it took a long time for him to receive the medal, it was great that he was finally able to receive it here, in a room full of veterans who, like him, are also recipients of the Bronze Star and Purple Heart."
Thanks to Gaetana Broillet, chairwoman of the Veterans History Project for the American Red Cross at Fort Bliss, and the persistence of relatives, Giron was able to obtain the medal.
"He was awarded the medal, but he never received it because it was never issued," said Broillet, one of the local volunteers who's assisted with project interviews.
This facet of Giron's military service surfaced in 2011 when Broillet conducted a video interview of Giron for the veterans oral history project. Broillet confirmed his account through records at the Library of Congress, and one thing led to another until officials were able to organize a fitting ceremony for Giron.
Congress passed legislation in 2000 that established the Veterans History Project at the American Folklife Center of the Library of Congress.
"He knew he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, but he was too humble to pursue it," Broillet said. "One of his sons heard the video interview, and he and Mr. Giron's other family members contacted the congressional district office, and made sure he was issued his medal."
American Red Cross officials said the project is intended to honor U.S. war veterans by recording the stories of their service, and makes their first person accounts available by collecting, recording and preserving them for future generations.
More information about the project, and how to volunteer to help, is at http://www.loc.gov/vets/
After Thursday's ceremony, Giron, his guests and others had a breakfast sponsored by the Association of the United States Army.