Still At War

More than 50 years after World War II, Marine Corps veteran Norman Anthonopoulas Sr. keeps fighting for the Medal of Honor he believes he earned

Anthonopoulas read that and thought Anthony had lost his mind. "He's telling me he knows a mistake was made, but he's not going to have it corrected even though the regs are the same today as they were 40 years ago." Inside the envelope with the letter was a small, velvet-covered box containing a Purple Heart medal, bearing onegold star. "It was insulting," spits Anthonopoulas. "To get me quiet he sends me a Purple Heart." You don't get a guy like Anthonopoulas quiet, not when he's lathered up with righteousness of cause. Now the fight was on two fronts: get the record corrected to show the Bronze and Silver stars, and get the Navy and Marine Corps Medal amended to something else.

The Medal of Honor is the supreme award for valor in combat. It is presented by the president, in the name of Congress, to members of the armed forces who have performed acts of personal bravery and self-sacrifice "above and beyond the call of duty." There are strict criteria attached: The deed must be verified by at least two eyewitnesses. It must be so outstanding that it clearly distinguishes the honoree's gallantry from lesser forms of bravery. It must involve risk of one's life, and it must be an act that, if not done, would not subject the candidate to any form of criticism. Since 1861, fewer than 3,500 people have received the medal.

The Anthonopoulas residence sits on a quiet street in South St. Louis. On the front door is a brass knocker in the shape of the Marine Corps insignia. In a living room furnished with plastic-covered chairs and sofa, Anthonopoulas pulls out a stack of letters, testimonials he solicited from members of his old unit. "It took me awhile to get hold of those guys," he says. "I was calling all over the country, running up phone bills of $200-$300 a month." In all, there were 28 letters praising Anthonopoulas as a bona fide hero, some typed, some jotted in shaky cursive. "On Tarawa, The Greek was drafted by Col. Shoupe to be his runner," wrote Lyle Brockman of Le Mars, Iowa. "Pinned down by enemy fire, The Greek attacked and eliminated two machine gun emplacements and neutralized a bunker. He then carried the colonel back to our own lines. The colonel owes him his life." Ray Dunlap of Phoenix wrote, "I do remember that Anthonopoulas received a Bronze Star and Purple Heart while on Saipan in November, 1944. The reason I remember this is that I was a little envious that such a skinny guy could receive so many medals."

But even this wasn't enough to impress F.P. Anthony, the faceless bureaucrat who continued to stonewall. There was simply no precedent for someone turning in a sheaf of eyewitness accounts, asking for not one but two medals for bravery. Beyond that, there was a time limit on the awarding of such medals -- "within five years after the date of act or service justifying the award."

Politicians often get the attention of military brass. Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond and former Sen. John Danforth wrote letters on Anthonopoulas' behalf, but, he contends, Anthony "put the kibosh on that." He sees Anthony, a reservist, as his nemesis: "He's trying to protect the integrity of the medals and decorations, but he's got to give what's due. I'm not asking for anything I think I didn't earn, but I want what I earned and I'm not gonna let some flyboy in the reserves take that away from me."

Finally, Anthonopoulas says, he found an accomplice at the Pentagon: "I won't give his name, but he did an end-run around Anthony. He hand-walked my papers up the hall to Gen. Alfred Gray, commandant of the Marine Corps. After Gray got them it didn't take much longer. I got a review board, and bang -- next thing I know they sent for me." In 1988, at a small ceremony, Gen. Gray awarded Anthonopoulas his Silver Star and Bronze Star. It was then that Anthonopoulas met Anthony. An-thonopoulas says he turned to Anthony and, in front of Gen. Gray, "told him he wouldn't make a pimple on a grunt's ass." A "grunt" is a combat infantryman. "That did not go over," says Anthonopoulas, amused by the memory. "I should've bit my tongue, but I didn't, and I've been paying for it ever since." Anthony could not be reached for comment.

Ten years later, Anthonopoulas still petitions for the medal he believes he deserves. Most recently, he sent letters from three retired generals and a Medal of Honor recipient, all of whom unequivocally recommend Anthonopoulas for his own Medal of Honor. "I don't mind being judged by my peers," Anthonopoulas emphasizes, "and you know who my peers are? The guys who were there. In that situation." Certainly not F.P. Anthony, who still holds the top berth at the Department of Decorations and Medals. Because Anthonopoulas insulted the man before his superior, Anthonopoulas believes, Anthony's position toward him has hardened to stone. "I'll never get a fair shake with him there," says Anthonopoulas ruefully. "I'm just hoping I can outlive him.

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