Originally published Aug. 20, 2010, in the Idaho Press-Tribune.
Gordon McDermott died Dec. 18, 2010.
World War II is like a dream now to 87-year-old Gordon P. McDermott, who was 20 when he entered the U.S. Army as a private in 1943.
Sixty-seven years and an ocean separate McDermott now from that time in his life when he shot down airplanes, lay wounded in fields of battle and captured enemy soldiers in Europe.
“You wonder if you were actually there,” the Caldwell resident said Thursday. “And I’m just glad to be home.”
The war hero finally received long-overdue recognition. At a ceremony inside Nampa’s Warhawk Air Museum, Congressman Walt Minnick presented McDermott with a reminder that all of it was real: six medals and a silver service star.
When the young private was honorably discharged on Nov. 7, 1945, he was more interested in getting home than collecting any medals he was entitled to receive. He already was bringing back shrapnel remains in his body and gunshot wounds to his right temple and chest, as well as some other mementos — foreign currency, a German soldier’s belt buckle, photos and a pocket-size Christmas card from Gen. Patton with a prayer.
“I didn’t think much about these medals,” McDermott said.
But then, McDermott didn’t think he would make it out of the war alive.
“The biggest award is coming home,” he said. “I thought I was going to be left there.”
It wasn’t until he sat down with his granddaughter Mackenzie, who interviewed him for a school project, that the medals he never collected crossed his mind. And then he started thinking about leaving something behind for his grandchildren.
McDermott’s son Dave contacted Minnick’s office for help getting the past-due medals.
“The reality is this is more for his grandkids than for anybody,” Dave said at the special ceremony. “He started realizing the World War II veterans were dying at a rapid rate.”
McDermott’s war buddy passed away two years ago, and “that’s what got him thinking about his longevity,” Dave said.
While serving overseas, McDermott said his unit manager did not keep records well. And his official military files were lost in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Records Center. He believes he is entitled to a Purple Heart for his combat injuries, but it was impossible for Minnick’s office to obtain the documentation.
McDermott accepted the medals from Minnick with the characteristic humility of a member of the Greatest Generation.
“Oh, I’m not that much of a hero,” said McDermott, who fought in seven major battles including the North Atlantic, Battle of England, Normandy (Utah Beach), Battle of the Bulge, Battle of the Rhine, Bastogne and more in Germany. “Other kids had a worse time than I did.”