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Ligonier World War II veteran receives Bronze Star Medal after 70-year wait

| Monday, July 15, 2013, 12:03 a.m.
Brian F. Henry | Tribune-Review
(From right) WWII Veteran Harry Wayne Rhodes pauses for the camera after being pinned with a Bronze Star by his grandson Bryan Baird at the Calvary United Methodist Church in Ligonier on Sunday July 14, 2013.

Harry Wayne Rhodes of Ligonier has waited for nearly 70 years to feel the weight of the Bronze Star Medal pinned to his chest.

Rhodes was wounded in 1944 while serving in Italy in World War II. When he was honorably discharged in 1945, he received the Purple Heart, but never the Bronze Star Medal he deserved.

On Sunday morning, during a service in Calvary United Methodist Church in Ligonier, Rhodes finally received the award during a ceremony that included the Pledge of Allegiance and “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

The Bronze Star Medal is an individual military award of the Armed Forces that may be awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone.

Rhodes realized he never received the award upon hearing the stories of several other veterans who received the medal years after their service.

His grandson, Seth Blazer, started the research into how Rhodes could get the medal, followed with help from Rhodes' cousin, Tom Kenney.

“It was long overdue,” Rhodes said after the ceremony, as fellow parishioners stopped by to congratulate him.

His wife, Zeda Rhodes, agreed.

“It's amazing,” she said. “I'm so proud for him.”

While serving in Company F of the Army starting in September 1943, Rhodes arrived in Naples in March 1944. After surviving a weeklong mortar attack, he was wounded by sniper fire.

While his company was under fire, Rhodes was hit by sniper fire on his left hand, which was right in front of his heart.

“He missed me two times, then the third time he hit me,” Rhodes said. “I figured it was time to get out.”

The Bronze Star Medal is the fourth-highest award for bravery in the Armed Forces.

Rhodes' grandson Bryan Baird pinned the medal on during the ceremony.

“I'm proud of him,” Baird said.

Kenney received help from a congressman in California to get Rhodes the medal. Kenney said that while he is unsure of why Rhodes didn't receive the award when he was discharged, the records could have been difficult to find because several burned in a warehouse in the 1970s.

The citation that accompanied the medal reads, “The House of Representatives of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania pays tribute to Harry Wayne Rhodes for enduring countless hardships, making untold sacrifices and placing himself in harm's way to defend and protect the cause of freedom.”

Rhodes said he didn't know until recently that he was even entitled to the award, but he said that it never felt like anything was missing.

Kate Wilcox is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 724-836-6155 or kwilcox@tribweb.com.

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