In Denver, A 102-Year-Old World War II Veteran Finally Receives His Medals
On a sunny morning under the shade of a big tree just north of the Regis University campus in Denver, a small group of people gathered around 102-year-old Edward Flaherty on Friday to honor him for what he did when he was young. They came to give him the medals he earned in World War II, but never received. The retired Catholic priest said it was all a surprise to him.
“If I had known it was happening, I would not have stayed here,” Flaherty joked.
He was flanked by his colleagues at the Xavier Jesuit Center, Congressman Ed Perlmutter, retired Army Major Gen. Steven P. Best, and a gaggle of camera-slinging journalists.
Flaherty entered the Army just months before Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941, the event that drew the U.S. into the war. He served in the Pacific theater as a medical technician, rising to the rank of sergeant before leaving in 1945.
Now, Flaherty is about to leave Denver for a care community in St. Louis, and his colleagues hoped to give him a send off. Eventually, they came into contact with Perlmutter.
“My office has the ability to do this kind of research through the Defense Department and through the VA to track down, you know, records,” Perlmutter told KUNC.
In fact, it’s a routine practice at Perlmutter’s 7th District office to look at records before holding ceremonies to see if anything has been overlooked. In Flaherty’s case, Perlmutter was bowled over.
“We were able then to kind of see all of the different medals and service honors he was entitled to,” Perlmutter said. “It gave me goosebumps, just like it's giving me goosebumps right now.”
During a medal-pinning ceremony, Best, in his full dress uniform, smiled at Flaherty.
“Now, I would like to say this is a timely presentation,” Best said. “It would depend on your definition of timely. But 75 years later, we're finally getting these in your position. So it's an honor to be a part of that.”
Best pinned the medals to Flaherty’s shirt: the Army Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the World War II Victory Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel Button.
Flaherty turned to the small gathering and said a few words.
“I'm sure this has been said a million times by a million different veterans, but thank you,” he said. “That's all I can say.”
He added that he did not feel worthy of all the honors. He later told reporters he was unaware of them.
“I never knew I had all those medals in my background and my history,” he said.
Flaherty was part of the 131st Engineer Regiment Medical Detachment. He helped treat his fellow soldiers’ wounds and injuries and assisted with evacuations.
“I think every moment in the military, you were just praying for the end to come, not knowing what you were going to be facing,” he said.
Flaherty added that to him, the war was about fighting the evils that the Axis allies, including Germany and Japan, had inflicted on the world. He said the war was about defending and safeguarding freedom and went on to express dismay about the tone Americans take with each other these days. Flaherty said he worries about the “violence and hatred and venom” and went on to reference the Jan. 6 insurrection at the Capitol in Washington as an example.
“I wish that the spirit of our founding fathers is passed on to the younger generations coming along today, because that's what our country needs, that spirit, that moral strength,” he said. “Otherwise, we will collapse like all the empires in the history of the world.”
Sixteen million Americans served in World War II and, of them, roughly 300,000 are still alive, according to the Department of Veterans Affairs.