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In pursuing past, grandson finds reason for tribute

Tue., June 9, 2009

On Memorial Day weekend, Tech. Sgt. Jeff Berry of the U.S. Air Force was searching for information about his grandfather’s service with the U.S. Army during World War II.

He knew LeRoy Berry, of Coeur d’Alene, had served with the 96th Infantry Division on Okinawa. But he wanted to learn more.

On Monday, his perseverance resulted in the presentation to his grandfather of the Bronze Star medal he earned 64 years ago.

“It’s good to know the details. It’s good to see his family proud,” Jeff Berry, of Las Vegas, said after a ceremony in which the commander of the 92nd Air Refueling Wing at Fairchild Air Force Base presented the medal.

“We’re here to fix what should have been done 64 years ago. That injustice is going to end here,” Col. Robert Thomas told the crowd gathered at Bestland Retirement Community, where LeRoy Berry lives with his wife, Arlene.

Berry was 24 and married with three children when he was drafted in July 1944. He completed basic training at Camp Adair, near Corvallis, Ore., and was sent to the Pacific. His unit landed on Okinawa in May 1945.

“We just had one job to do and that was – go ahead,” Berry said. “It was one hell of a campaign. We were losing an awful lot of men.”

The battle for Okinawa was one of the bloodiest in U.S. military history, with more than 13,000 killed in action and more than 57,000 casualties. Berry served until June, when his right shoulder was torn apart by enemy fire. He earned the Purple Heart and the Combat Infantry Badge.

On Jan. 10, 2001, the entire 96th was awarded the U.S. Presidential Unit Citation for actions on Okinawa. It’s one of only four divisions in U.S. military history to have earned the honor.

While searching for information two weeks ago, Jeff Berry learned that members of the 96th who’d earned a Combat Infantry Badge also were eligible for the Bronze Star, which recognizes meritorious service. A look at his grandfather’s discharge papers revealed that he was eligible.

Jeff Berry said the ceremony Monday brought together family members who hadn’t seen each other in years. He watched as his grandfather hugged and kissed them and caught up on their lives.

“What I gave my grandpa was a memory,” Jeff Berry said. “It’s a tribute.”

Jeff Berry said he’s been to Okinawa twice on training missions. He has stood on the island trying to imagine what his grandfather went through. He said he brought back some sand and sprinkles a little into each new pair of boots he puts on.

“I’ve got to walk in his footsteps to the best of my ability,” he said. “I don’t know what it’s like to be him. I can’t even guess.”

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