Robert H. Kliewer waited 51 years, but Friday he finally received eight medals for military valor from World War II, including the Silver Star for gallantry.
“This means quite a bit,” said Kliewer, 79, with his wife, Betty, and other family members at his side.
He received the medals during a ceremony at the Spokane Veteran’s Affairs Hospital, where a small crowd gathered to mark the 50th anniversary of volunteer service to the VA.
U.S. Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, helped cut through military red tape to obtain the medals. The congressman made the presentation to Kliewer.
“You have our greatest admiration and respect. Congratulations,” the congressman told the veteran.
A retired Spokane contractor, Kliewer seems a modest hero. During the presentation, he smiled warmly, but did not address the audience. In a soft voice, he simply thanked Nethercutt for his help and sat down.
Later, he told reporters the event was a miracle.
“All these years of trying, I didn’t expect to get them,” he said. “This makes my day.”
Kliewer was discharged from the U.S. Army near the start of 1946, but his service records were destroyed in a fire in St. Louis, and that’s why he never received all of the medals he’d earned during the war.
Kliewer had earned a total of 15 medals by the end of the war, but received only seven of them at the time.
On Friday, he was given the Silver Star, the nation’s second highest medal for valor, and the Bronze Star with oak cluster. He also received medals recognizing his marksmanship with a rifle and his participation in various campaigns, along with an American flag.
A native of Bonners Ferry, Idaho, Kliewer graduated from the University of Idaho in forestry and was a second lieutenant in the ROTC. He trained at Fort Benning, Ga.
He became a parachutist in the infantry and started fighting in the Philippines in 1943. He was promoted to captain a short time later. While on the island of Luzon, he lost 60 comrades over a three-month period.
“We had a lot of good reasons for doing what we did. We had a just cause,” Kliewer said of America’s role in the Pacific.
The Silver Star came for his actions on Feb. 8, 1945, when his company was attacked on its right flank on Luzon.
The citation reads, “With utter disregard for his personal safety, Capt. Kliewer moved forward under heavy hostile fire and reorganized (the company’s) positions.
“This brave officer then remained forward and directed artillery fire on the enemy until the attack was repelled.”
Now, with five children and nine grandchildren, Kliewer said he has something important - his war medals - to hand down to them.
The fighting was not without a cost. “I lost an awful lot of people,” he said, “but I have a lot of them left.”
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