When the sun hit the medal on his chest, Andrew Loehr's Purple Heart was almost as bright as his smile.
A year of waiting and 65 years after his World War II injury, he was recognized with the medal that honors veterans wounded in action.
"I have a feeling of satisfaction, like something was completed," he said.
County Commissioner Steve Tharinger pinned the Purple Heart medal on Loehr's jacket.
Family, friends, Sequim Mayor Laura Dubois and Kim Brown, constituent services representative for U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, were on hand for the ceremony Wednesday, Aug. 26, at Loehr's home near Dungeness Bay.
"It's a real honor for me to award this," said Tharinger.
"The government did the right thing in giving this to him."
Murray wrote in a letter to Loehr, "We owe our freedom to you, and I'm honored to have assisted you in getting the recognition you deserve."
World War II
Loehr's Purple Heart recognition is based on an incident while he was serving with the U.S. Army Air Corps in Japanese-occupied China as he dismantled a downed Nakajima KI-44-11B, "Tojo."
His task was to investigate fallen aircraft looking for any technological advances and possible weaknesses.
"Our job was to find the weakest points so our planes could shoot them down," Loehr said.
While he was inspecting the Tojo, a Japanese fighter in another Tojo strafed him. Although he hid under the plane's wing, his leg was sticking out slightly and he was shot above the right ankle.
Cut off from medical care because of Japanese occupation, he used his 6-inch hunting knife to pull shrapnel out and sprinkled healing powder in the wound.
"I put it on and was on my way," Loehr said.
"I had a little bit of pain but it wasn't too bad."
Because of rough terrain and the hostile environment, he wasn't evacuated until six months later.
"I'm the luckiest guy in the world," Loehr said.
"If I was hit anywhere else, I'd be gone."
After he returned to Wright-Patterson Air Force Base in Ohio, Loehr injured himself playing baseball.
The surgeon filed a report on his previous injury along with the new one, which became the only link for Loehr to receive the Purple Heart. Without this report, he wouldn't have received the honor because no field medics or surgeons were present where he worked alone in China.
"I remember the doctor saying, 'I could have done a better job of it,' after looking me over," he said.
Document the truth
Loehr didn't think he was eligible for the Purple Heart until family members asked him about the incident.
"I asked him, 'Where's your Purple Heart?'" Loehr's grandson Andy Loehr said.
"And he said he didn't have it."
Loehr had sent off his original application but he was denied twice because of the missing form.
Loehr eventually found it crumpled up under some old files he was about to throw out.
"I was looking for it for 60 years," he said.
He then contacted Murray's office in September 2008. They contacted the Veterans Affairs Office and the National Personnel Record Center in St. Louis.
At age 93, after nearly a year wait for paperwork and 65 years after being injured, Loehr received his Purple Heart.
"It completes a circle for him," said Pat McCauley, Loehr's daughter.
"It's one of those medals that he should have had."
Loehr said his Purple Heart is one of almost a million that were made in anticipation of casualties in the invasion of Japan - which never came.
"We were anticipating a lot more to happen to our soldiers," he said.
Loehr retired as a lieutenant colonel on Sept. 18, 1961, after 22 years of active duty, nine of them overseas. He then served 27 years as a civil servant.
He stayed in military intelligence his whole career and worked with German scientists, recruiting them for U.S. service.
Loehr said he recruited 30 scientists in three years to work in U.S. space and missile programs.
In World War II, his service time saw him in England, Northern Africa, Italy and China, and in Germany and Turkey after the war.
He and his wife, Marie, moved to Sequim in August 1981 from Austin, Texas. Marie died 15 years ago, he said.
"We wanted to live between the sea and the mountains," he said.
They had three children, Katherine, Andrew and Patricia.
"Eventually, all the kids moved here, too."
Reach Matthew Nash at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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