"We were young of course, and scared."
Those were the words of an 88-year-old World War II veteran who on Tuesday received the Purple Heart for injuries he sustained in Okinawa on Aug. 28, 1945.
Marion Leslie Coleman said the excursion that led to his injury was one that he feared would get him in trouble, so he said he was injured during "souvenir hunting."
The U.S. Navy put the record straight this week when Capt. Charles C. Moore, USN, and commanding officer of Naval Air Station Meridian, presented Coleman with the medal during a meeting of the Meridian City Council.
"He deserved and rated the Purple Heart medal," Moore said. "You'll hear me frequently say that I consider our World War II generation American patriots and national treasures. Anything we can do to further distinguish the heroic exploits of our World War II generation is of great value and meaning to me, particularly in the Navy circumstances we have today."
Coleman was a radioman in the Navy, having joined that branch because he loved sailing and being on the water. But the military had different plans and he was deployed to the 5th Marine Combat Unit just before they invaded Okinawa, Japan.
"From that point on, I was never a sailor," Coleman said. "I stayed on the ground, slept in a tent, crawled in the mud, jumped off the towers. I did everything that the marines did in their training."
Coleman's Injury occurred just days after Japan announced its surrender on Aug. 15 but before the formal treaty was signed on Sept. 2 of that year.
"Three or four of us fellows decided we would go solve the war by ourselves. We borrowed a Jeep and I borrowed my chief's .45 and we headed out. We found a cave and crawled into two or three," Coleman said. "Nothing was there. We knew the Japanese were living in the ground at that time so we crawled into this one. I'm out front."
Just as he stepped into the living quarters of the cave, he heard the tap of a hand grenade being activated and saw a spark.
"He threw it at my feet, so I emptied my .45 and turned back around and dove back into the hole," Coleman said. "My whole rear end is covered with shrapnel and things. One of my friends made me a Purple Heart one time and put on it, 'For your advance to the rear.'"
He was anxious because of the circumstances of the injury, so he stuck with the souvenir hunting story.
"That's an 18-year-old scared boy, afraid he'd be thrown out of the Navy if he told the truth. That basically was the end of that," he said.
The Purple Heart came as a real surprise, since Coleman was told he would be attending the city council meeting to see his son get an award.
After his injury, he was flown to Guam for medical treatment where they determined to leave most of the shrapnel in place for fear of causing more injury. He was later transferred back to Okinawa and was discharged on Jan. 14, 1946.
Coleman was previously awarded the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, the Honorable Service 'Rupture Duck' lapel pin and his honorable discharge button.
Another vivid memory for Coleman is the night of the announcement of the Japanese surrender.
"I copied the message that was being sent out over the radio," he said. "I have pictures at home of the sky lit up with tracer bullets. It was a night to remember. The sky was totally white with tracer bullets going up. The next day we started to pack to come home."
Coleman and his wife Joyce have three children, Connie F. Flory, and twin sons, Judge Frank M. Coleman and Dr. Woodward L. Coleman. He is the oldest member of the Civitan Club in Meridian and has numerous years of service helping with the Special Olympics.
Navy awards Purple Heart to WW II vet
"We were young of course, and scared."
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