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World War II veteran finally receives awards

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -  A World War II veteran has finally received awards due him for defending his country and helping to make a good life possible for his fellow citizens.

That was the message delivered by an array of speakers on Monday morning before an enthusiastic crowd at the Hansford Community Center in St. Albans. The guest of honor was Walter V. Filipek, 87, who served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Filipek, clad in a red, white and blue shirt, appeared exuberant to receive awards he had earned but never formally received.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer, adjutant general of the West Virginia National Guard, applauded Filipek's courage, commitment and service. He said examples set by Filipek and other veterans are "the reason I wear a uniform. I can't thank all of you enough."

U.S. Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., said, "It's wonderful to be here with Walter Filipek. He epitomizes what I would like to see the younger generation aspire to be like."

Travis Mollohan, representing the office of Sen. Joe Manchin, read statements on the senator's behalf such as, "My children and grandchildren live freely because of soldiers like Mr. Filipek."

St. Albans Mayor Dick Calloway presented a proclamation declaring March 4 to be Walter Filipek Day.

The celebration included presentation of colors by the Marine Corps Junior ROTC from St. Albans High School. Members of the group were about the age of Filipek when he first enlisted just shy of his 18th birthday.

"I wanted to wear that blue uniform," Filipek said.  "They sent me to Rhode Island and I asked for my blues. The sergeant said I wouldn't live long enough to wear them. I fooled him. I'm still here and he's probably gone."

However, there were many close calls. Decades would pass before Filipek would mention them.

Filipek, who grew up in Raleigh County, was one of 12 children. His father, Anton Filipek, was a sergeant in the Army, and four of his brothers also served in the military. Joseph, who is deceased, served in the Army. Edward was in the Navy. Theodore served in the Air Force. Andrew was in the Army.

Walter, who now lives in Hurricane, said longtime friend Ellen Mills Pauley started the research that eventually led to receipt of his medals.

Capito credited Manchin for pursuing the matter.

While it was not clear why Filipek did not receive his honors sooner, Capito said it is important for veterans to keep papers in order so that earned awards may be delivered.

Cathie Merriman of Lexington, S.C., who is Filipek's daughter, was on hand for the celebration along with several other family members. She said she felt blessed.

"I am proud of him," she said. "He is so excited."

Filipek, a widower, has five children, four grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

He is a regular at the Hansford Community Center where he may be found serving coffee or doing the two-step at a dance.

When he addressed the crowd, he said, "I thank all of you for coming. This is a big day for me and a big day for the Hansford Center and the senior citizens of St. Albans."

He led everyone in the Pledge of Allegiance, just as he does every Monday.

While Filipek was aware that he had earned a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, he was surprised by the numerous other honors he had garnered.

He served with the Sixth Marine Division in Okinawa. He was a private first class when he left a concealed position to rescue his wounded squad leader. He then wiped out an enemy machine gun nest that was holding up the advance of his platoon. His heroic actions on June 23, 1945, earned him a bronze star.

He was on Okinawa Island when he was wounded on May 29, 1945, and again on June 23, 1945. Both times he sustained shrapnel wounds, received treatment, and immediately returned to duty. He earned a Purple Heart with one gold star for wounds received in action.

Additional honors included combat action ribbon, presidential unit citation, Marine Corps good conduct medal, China service medal, Asiatic-Pacific campaign medal, and World War II victory medal.

Contact writer Charlotte Ferrell Smith at charlotte@dailymail.com or 304-348-1246.


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