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EL PASO, Texas — A World War II veteran injured in 1944 when he was struck by a German tank in France was posthumously awarded a Purple Heart on Friday in a West Texas ceremony.
Relatives of Army Pvt. Juan C. Marquez accepted the Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars awarded to him posthumously, Fort Bliss officials said. The honors come decades after Marquez suffered shrapnel wounds, broken ribs and a separated shoulder during the war.
Marquez was discharged in 1945 but died three years later in an accident. He left behind a wife and four sons.
One of his sons eventually looked at his father's Army documents, and seeing that it stated he had been wounded in combat, the family began digging. His relatives — including his granddaughter, now a state lawmaker — worked to find the right documents to prove he deserved the honors.
"There were several attempts made to gather all the information," including the death certificate and the discharge papers, said Rep. Marissa Marquez, who plans to attend the ceremony to honor the grandfather she never met.
Friday's ceremony came after the family made several unsuccessful attempts to convince the Army he deserved the honors and reached out to Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison. The late soldier's son, Antonio Marquez, said the Texas Republican helped get the process to fruition — and the Army finally agreed to award the medals.
"We shouldn't have to ask and scrape around for this medal," he told The Associated Press in a phone interview. "It was very frustrating, I didn't know who to go to, (but the) senator, she pushed."
"Juan C. Marquez exemplifies the citizens our nation sent to liberate the world from tyranny, and Major General Pittard is humbled by the opportunity to present him the Bronze Star and Purple Heart," Fort Bliss spokesman Maj. Joseph Buccino said Thursday.
Antonio Marquez, one of the soldier's children, previously said Friday's ceremony would bring closure to the effort to see his father decorated. It also justifies the hardships the family endured after Juan Marquez's death, when Antonio was 9 and his youngest brother was 8 months old, he said.
"I was nine, my youngest brother just eight months old," Marquez said, adding that his father had been a welder and machinist at a local business.
After their father's death, Antonio and his brothers were moved to San Elizario, a small border town where they subsisted on their mother's wages as a cotton picker and the father's social security and veteran's affairs checks. He said his father didn't request the decorations after being discharged.
"He was a very humble man, didn't care about being honored in any way," he explained.
Noting that his father had already been wounded by shrapnel before he was hit by a German Tiger tank, Marquez said: "Then when you had shrapnel wounds, they'd patch you up and send you back to the front line."
His father had enlisted after receiving a letter from the Army telling him to report to Fort Bliss. At the time the family was living in a town on the Mexican side of the border, but he took his wife and sons to El Paso, rented an apartment and enlisted.
"As a U.S. citizen, a man proud of his country he didn't want to dodge his obligation," his son said. "They taught him to shoot a rifle and two weeks later he was sent to war."