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88-year-old WWII veteran receives Purple Heart

Wednesday - 5/1/2013, 7:03pm  ET

CORRECTS TO SAY VETERANS AFFAIRS HOSPITAL - World War II veteran Charles Bledsoe, 88, left, talks with U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Wednesday, May 1, 2013, as he's awarded a Purple Heart and Bronze Star for injuries sustained in combat at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Sioux Falls, S.D. Bledsoe hadn't received the honors earlier because his gunshot wound wasn't indicated on his discharge papers. (AP Photo/Dirk Lammers)

Associated Press

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (AP) -- As Army soldier Charles Bledsoe was being loaded onto a Jeep with a gunshot wound to the abdomen nearly 70 years ago, he heard someone say, "Give him his last rites."

"I looked around to see who that was getting the last rites," Bledsoe recalled. "I went, 'The hell.' It was me."

Bledsoe recovered, but the April 19, 1945, wound was never recorded on his discharge papers so he hadn't received a Purple Heart. The oversight was corrected Wednesday, as U.S. Sen. Tim Johnson, D-S.D., presented the 88-year-old World War II veteran with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star during a ceremony at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Sioux Falls.

"Thank you, senator, for getting it right," said Bledsoe, who moved to Sioux Falls after the war. "It's the first time it's ever been right."

Bledsoe, an Indiana native, hadn't really pushed for the medal until about a year ago when he tried to become a member of the Sioux Falls chapter of the Military Order of the Purple Heart. He was told he couldn't join the organization because he didn't have a Purple Heart, awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces wounded in battle.

"He heard about our chapter and he wanted to join, but (the battle wound) wasn't on his discharge papers," said Mark Williamson, commander of the group's Sioux Falls chapter.

So Williamson began researching records and working with Sen. Johnson's office to get Bledsoe his honors.

"Most of us have only read about or seen movies depicting the D-Day invasion, the Battle of the Hedgerows and the Battle of the Bulge," Johnson said. "Charles experienced them all firsthand."

The Purple Heart was created in 1782 as the Badge of Military Merit by George Washington, but was ignored for nearly 150 years until it was reintroduced in 1932 on the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth.

The nearly 2-inch-long medal features a gold bust of Washington on a purple background with a gold border, suspended from a white and purple ribbon. The inscription on back reads: "For military merit."

The Bronze Star, a 1
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