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WWII vet receives his Bronze Star — finally

Evon "Bud" Pennington received a long overdue award on his 92nd birthday in the form of a Bronze Star.

The medal was nearly 70 years late, but this didn't seem to bother Pennington Saturday afternoon. He was surrounded by family and friends — some of whom traveled from across the county to mark the occasion.

Pennington looked sharp in his navy blue suit, which he made sure to button before a representative from U.S. Rep. Greg Walden's office presented him the Bronze Star in a small ceremony in the family's backyard in Medford.

"We can't thank him enough for his service," said John Howard, who is Walden's director of constituent services.

Pennington was an Army infantryman who served in the Pacific campaign of World War II, helping take the island of Okinawa from a tough Japanese force with its back against the wall in 1945.

For his service, he was awarded several medals, including a Purple Heart. Therein lies a tale all its own, Pennington said.

"I was in a Jeep on Okinawa when I saw a bright flash and then I woke up an hour later," he said.

His Jeep was hit by a Japanese rocket as it drove in the island back country. The explosion ripped the Jeep to pieces and piled the wreckage in a deep hole, Pennington said.

"I was in the bottom of that hole," he said. "You don't survive that, but I did. They threw a lot of those rockets in the air and I just happened to be in the way of one of them."

He spent three weeks recuperating from the rocket attack. To this day, he still doesn't know how he possibly survived such a close encounter with a 30 mm rocket.

"Three weeks in the hospital and then it was back to duty," he said.

Among his other medals was a Combat Infantryman's Badge, which was awarded only to Army veterans. However, the Army adopted a policy in 1947 in which anyone awarded the Combat Infantryman's Badge would retroactively receive a Bronze Star.

The Bronze Star is recognized across every branch of the military and is one of the highest combat honors a soldier can receive.

Pennington's daughter, Janice Howes, was scanning The Washington Post in her Virginia home last year when she came across a story about an Army veteran receiving his belated Bronze Star.

"I saw that and thought it was a good idea that they are doing that for the vets," she said.

She sent a copy of Pennington's discharge papers to the federal government, who checked his record to see if he was eligible for the medal.

Which brought us to Saturday's combination medal ceremony and birthday party at Pennington's home on Driftwood Place in west Medford.

Several of his kids and grandkids followed in Pennington's footsteps, serving in the Vietnam and Iraq wars.

Reaching 92 was quite an accomplishment in and of itself. Pennington said he has no secrets to living long, eventful life.

"I think it has to do with having a good wife," said Alberta Pennington, who married Bud 65 years ago.

After accepting the Bronze Star, the retired millworker settled in his chair to enjoy the rest of his birthday party.

"I'm 92 and I feel pretty good," Pennington said. "Look, I got a great family."

Reach reporter Chris Conrad at 541-776-4471 or email cconrad@mailtribune.com/crimefinder.

Evon “Bud” Pennington, 92, received a Bronze Star on Saturday in his Medford home. - Julia Moore