One of the first things you learn at any newspaper is that stories need to be about people. You can write about places and things all day long, but the best stories describe how places and things affect people. Or a person. One thing I like about living in Florida is that it is filled with old people. And old people have lifetimes of experiences that make for good stories.
By ARTHUR FREDERICK
CLEARWATER, Fla. — Bill Wynne finally got his medals Thursday, 48 years after a Japanese rifleman shot him in the knee during a battle in the Philippines.
If Wynne hadn’t been so determined to get a special Florida license plate for wounded vets, he might never have gotten his decorations at all.
Wynne, 70, who lives at the On Top of the World development in Clearwater, spent part of Veterans Day at a ceremony at American Legion Post 7, collecting the Purple Heart and Bronze Star, two of the awards and decorations he should have received after World War II, but never did.
To hear him tell it, the bullet wound to the knee was no big deal.
“I always felt I was lucky he hit me in the knee instead of the head,” Wynne said.
The Army’s failure to deliver his medals was no big deal, either, he said. He spent some time in the hospital, finished the war as a truck driver instead of a machine gunner, then got on with his life in Pennsylvania after the war was over.
When Wynne asked about his medals after the war, he was told there was no record of his being wounded or decorated. That seemed a little strange, he said, because the government kept sending him monthly disability checks. But after a while he stopped trying to get his medals.
“I just gave up on it,” Wynne said.
And that’s the way things would have remained, except for the special “combat wounded veteran” license plate that Wynne wanted so badly for his Mercury Sable.
When Pennsylvania came out with a special commemorative license plate for wounded veterans, Wynne, who was then a Pennsylvania resident, applied. Pennsylvania officials were happy to issue him the special plate, he said, and they accepted his VA disability papers as proof of his combat wound.
But things were different when Wynne moved to Florida three years ago. Florida refused to issue him the special plate unless he could produce his Purple Heart or some other evidence of having been wounded in combat.
Wynne decided to go after his medals again, but he got nowhere until he contacted the office of U.S. Sen. Bob Graham.
“They got a reply within 48 hours that my records had been located,” Wynne said.
The official presentation was held at the American Legion post, but the decorations actually came to Wynne’s home a week ago, packed in a big box.
“My wife got excited about them,” he said. “When I got home that night I was just glad to see the Purple Heart was in there.”
Besides the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, the box contained a Good Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with star, Philippine Liberation Ribbon and a number of other awards.
It was easy to see there was more involved than a license plate.
“I opened the box, and then I opened all the little boxes inside, and I read all the authorizations that were with the medals, and it took me back all those years,” Wynne said. “I felt very emotional about it. It brought home to me that they were really mine.”