U.S. civilian in Italy receives Defense of Freedom medal
Stars and Stripes August 19, 2006
VICENZA, Italy — Pete Corona has spent almost 30 years serving his adopted country.
That included a 21-year stint in the Air Force, where he served in Desert Storm. As a civilian employee of the Army Corps of Engineers, he volunteered to serve in Iraq. Twice.
He was wounded in a mortar attack on April 14, 2004, received medical treatment and served out the remainder of his 6-month tour. Friday, he was honored in a small ceremony at Caserma Ederle with the Defense of Freedom medal.
Maj. Gen. Frank Helmick, commander of the Southern European Task Force (Airborne) pinned the medal on.
“We are very blessed and proud to have this guy on our team,” he said of Corona, who is a construction representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Europe region.
Col. Margaret Burcham, who leads the Europe region, praised Corona for his efforts, saying he volunteered to take on tough jobs.
That included two stints in a task force that served alongside active-duty personnel in Iraq, offering expert engineering advice in a dangerous environment.
Burcham said there aren’t any personnel from Europe currently serving on similar teams in Iraq or Afghanistan. But she said at any one time, there are about a dozen members of her unit downrange, serving four- to 12-month tours. Corona is the fifth member of the Army Corps of Engineers to receive the medal.
For his part, Corona said he did “nothing special. I was just in the right place at the right time.”
Or the wrong place at the wrong time, depending on your perspective. While serving with a group of Marines on his second tour in Iraq, he was hit by shrapnel in the foot.
“It was never life-threatening,” he said, adding that he still had some pieces in his foot. He was given first aid by the Marines, treated at a military medical facility and then returned to work.
Corona said he was honored to receive the medal, designed to be the civilian version of the Purple Heart. It originated following the Sept. 11, 2001, attack on the Pentagon. But he said there are thousands of others who are more deserving of attention.
“Other people come back (from Iraq) with no legs. Others don’t come home at all. Those are the real heroes,” he said.
Corona was born in Mexico and moved to the United States in 1972. He joined the Air Force in 1975, became a U.S. citizen in 1983 and retired as a master sergeant.
“I’m proud of my service in the Air Force and Army Corps of Engineers and I would go back to Iraq in an instant,” he said. “Especially with the Marines or our soldiers.”
While in Iraq, he got a chance to visit his daughter, Marta, who was serving in Tallil Air Base. She’s an Air Force staff sergeant now stationed in Okinawa, Japan.