Camp Pendleton

WWII Veteran Surprised With Purple Heart

Wednesday morning was set up to be just any other day for Lee Anderson. The 91-year-old WWII veteran headed to the same restaurant as always, for the same meal as always, with the same friends as always.

When he placed his order - as he always did exactly at 8:30 - he had no idea that by the end of the meal, he would be receiving an honor that was 72 years in the making.

On March 11, 1945, Anderson suffered a concussion in an explosion while fighting in the Battle of Iwo Jima.

He was taken off the island to a military hospital before spending four months recuperating at Camp Pendleton. His injuries made him eligible for the Purple Heart, a medal awarded to all military members wounded in war.

Anderson never applied for the honor, and may never have received it if not for his children.

"When we started looking into his military records ... it said wounded in action in Iwo Jima and there was no record of his Purple Heart," his son Todd Anderson said.

Lee never talked about the war, about losing his best friend "almost immediately" on Iwo Jima or how he was so disoriented after his injury that he pushed his pistol into the stomach of the medic who was rescuing him.

"He was just a very simple guy. He did everybody's plumbing, worked every Saturday plumbing everybody's house and never charged them a cent," Todd said. "He'd give you the shirt off his back."

Todd found a pair of letters sent to Lee's parents in 1945 describing his injuries. This began a yearlong process that ended with the Purple Heart and several other medals arriving at Todd's house two weeks ago. He and his brothers decided to surprise their father with the medal.

"We may kill him today with all the excitement," Todd joked.

Finally on Wednesday, with a parade of friends, family and fellow Marines in attendance, Lee Anderson was presented with the medal he earned nearly three-quarters of a century ago.

"Today I have the honor of closing the loop on something that should have happened a long time ago," Lt. Col. Aaron Doty said before pinning the Purple Heart on Lee's chest.

"It's so overwhelming," Lee said. "I can't believe it."

He sat with tears in his eyes as his sons talked about his service.

"They know I thank them," he said. "They're just the greatest thing there is."

After the medal presentation, Lee regaled the crowd with tales from his time in the war and his life since.

"I knew I'd get the heart someday, but nothing like this," he said.

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