It took nearly 57 years but World War II veteran and Whittier resident Joseph N. Cortese finally received the recognition he deserves.
U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-Fullerton) presented Cortese, 86, with the Bronze Star on Saturday at La Habra Convalescent Hospital, where Cortese's wife, Martha, lives. About 80 friends, family members and residents gathered in the recreation room for the ceremony.
"This is an honor to be here today and see all the beautiful people pay respect for what I have done 57 years ago," Cortese said. "It's the greatest honor I could have. . . . It means more to me than life itself."
On Dec. 6, 1944, while stationed in Leyte, Philippines, the Army Air Corps 1937th Engineer Aviation Utilities Company came under enemy fire. During the fight, Pfc. Wilfred T. Nixon was hit and lay on a battlefield severely wounded.
According to Cortese's account, he crawled about 60 yards, grabbed Nixon and dragged him to safety. The officer in charge took the credit for the rescue, he said.
About a year ago, Cortese's daughter Judy Van Bebber found an Army commendation dated May 14, 1945, that said her father was to receive the Bronze Star--the nation's fourth-highest combat award given to military while engaged in combat.
Never having seen the medal, she asked Cortese, who said he never got the award and hadn't thought much of it.
Van Bebber contacted Army officials about the facts surrounding her father's medal, she said. It wasn't until she contacted Royce that she saw results.
"Once he got involved, within four weeks we had the medal," she said.
During his nearly four-year tour of duty with stops in such places as New Guinea and Okinawa, Cortese said, he served his country proudly and cared little about recognition.