95-year-old WWII veteran receives honor that was long overdue
95-year-old Willis Arnold Jr. was honored for his service and commitment to the country on Friday afternoon at the Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home in Hot Springs, S.D.
With input from his family, the State veterans' facility he now calls home did research to find that he was worthy of this honor a long time ago.
"We reached out to the national records archives. Unfortunately, Mr. Arnold's records had been burnt up, so we also reached out to the U.S. Army to determine if they maybe had the records," said Tyler Rousselle, veteran service officer for the Michael J. Fitzmaurice State Veterans Home.
The records they collected indicated that Arnold actually qualified for the Purple Heart at the age of 22, a history that Rousselle said had to be brought to the light.
"It really was on them doing the paperwork and me putting together the pieces to send to them and say hey and we need to look and see what we can find for this veteran," he continued.
Arnold rolled away with a chest full. In addition to the Purple Heart, Arnold received a Bronze Star Medal, an honor only given to those who have served in combat and performed extraordinarily while doing so, an acknowledgment he couldn't be more grateful for.
"I'm overwhelmed. I'm just so thankful for you all. Thank you. I feel so wonderful and gratitude for you helping me and looking over me," he said.
Arnold was surrounded by his family, friends, and those who simply admired his bravery.
"I just consider it an honor to be part of the ceremony and to meet another great American that's willing to wear their uniform and serve their country in times when the nation needs them," said General Tim Reisch from the South Dakota National Guard.
"It's a great honor to be awarded a bronze star and it really shows the dedication that he had to our country and the true hero that he is," Rousselle said.
They say although heroes like Arnold may not always want all of the attention, it is still very important that they get the credit they deserve.
"Very gracious and reflective of the people of that era you know a lot of times, they don't want to talk about the things that they've done so it was great to be around, better late than never I would say on these sorts of things, but it's a real honor to meet the man," Reisch continued.
"Appreciate it very much, thank you all," Arnold expressed.