A 68-year-old injustice has been partially rectified today.
In 1943 Cecil Reynolds Means, a young West Virginia kid, enlisted in the US Navy and joined the Seabees, assigned to the 133rd Naval Construction Battalion. He rated as a Machinist’s Mate, 3rd Class.
In 1944, while his buddies were partying with the pretty girls at Pearl Harbor, he volunteered for one of the most dangerous assignments of the Pacific War- pontoon duty. His job was to shuttle barges back and forth from supply ships to supply the Marines while they fought the Battle of Angaur. The Japanese did everything in their power to sink the pontoons and kill the exposed sailors piloting them. The men were out there on those barges, day and night for three weeks until the island was taken.
From there, he traveled to the Marianas to rejoin his unit.
On 2/19/45, he was among the first men on the beach at Iwo Jima. Totally exposed on the beach, with mortars raining down on them from Mt. Suribachi, he manned a machine gun emplacement. On D-Day +2 (2/21/45) a mortar hit his position, instantly killing his two assistants and seriously wounding him. The famous flag raising would not take place for another three days, and the Japanese defenders were fighting furiously to hold Suribachi as long as they could.
He was brought to a triage tent, and sent to a hospital ship. From there he was sent to a Navy hospital on Guam, then on to California.
In addition to his wounds, he suffered severe shell shock- what we would now call post-traumatic stress disorder. The Navy shamed him for it and gave him a less-than-honorable discharge.
Broken and ashamed, he could not open the car door when he returned to West Virginia to see his young son, who would not understand for many years why he didn’t open the car door. This had a devastating effect on his family for the rest of his- and his son’s- life.
Today I had the privilege of telling my children that their great-grandfather is a decorated war hero. Their great-grandfather was awarded the Purple Heart today- 68 years after he was wounded and 23 years after his death. His son- my father-in-law- died last Thanksgiving. It was our initial inquiries seven years ago into his father’s war history that got the ball rolling and led to this day. It would have meant a great deal to Don to see his dad get the Purple Heart, and how fitting that it came two days after what would have been his 71st birthday. How also fitting that the Navy simply mailed the medal to his widow, without any ceremony or pomp.
I never met the man, but I always considered him a hero. It’s about time the Navy came around.
Addendum: I just got this last picture of his medals. The certificate says he was wounded on D-Day +7, not D-Day +2, and thus was there for the famous flag raising, as he claimed to have been (but my father-in-law didn’t believe).