Delaware County veteran awarded Purple Heart after 72 years

MUNCIE, Ind. -- A World War II veteran was awarded one of the highest honors Wednesday morning in Muncie, more than seven decades after being wounded during combat.

Junior Howell, 91, was presented with a Purple Heart by Delaware County Marines.

The story of how Howell got to this moment is what he calls "a long one." Howell was serving as a marine during the Battle of Peleliu, one of the deadliest battles in the Pacific. On September 21, 1944, Howell's unit came under fire. He was hit by shrapnel. The Muncie resident said he blacked out for three months.

When he came home that same year, Howell lied about his injuries so he could skip the medical protocol and get back home to his friends and family. That's part of the reason why it took 72 years for Howell to receive his Purple Heart.

"Came across a medical file that showed engaged by the enemy, wounded in the the buttocks by shrapnel," said Nate Jones, Veterans Affairs Officer for Delaware County.

Jones said once he got to know Howell and his story, he knew the veteran deserved to be honored. Jones and Delaware County Veterans Affairs Administrator, Jeni Honeycutt, got to work filling out the paperwork to get Howell his much deserved Purple Heart. After applying in 1993, Howell didn't get the award, but they tried again and eventually, with the help of Senator Joe Donnelly, the approval came through.

"I’m just over the moon for him. He’s tried for this award before and had no success, so we’re pretty excited that we were able to help him with this," Honeycutt said.

"We’re excited that we could be a part of it and help and I’m just excited to be a part of today and what he did," Jones added.

Although humble, Howell is one of the last living WWII veterans to ever receive the Purple Heart.

"They’re rewarding me for something that I should be doing anyway. That’s great," Howell said.

Senator Joe Donnelly (D) released this statement Wednesday.

"Junior Howell served our country with distinction during World War II, and it was a great honor to help him receive this long overdue Purple Heart. We owe our deepest gratitude to Junior Howell and thank him for his sacrifice."

Veterans whose medals have been lost or destroyed can contact Donnelly’s office in Indianapolis at 317-226-5555 for assistance replacing them. Donnelly’s office may also be able to help veterans working to access medals they have earned.

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