Aztec veteran receives Purple Heart
AZTEC — An 89-year-old World War II veteran received the Purple Heart during a ceremony on Saturday at the Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 614 in Aztec.
As a young man from Indiana, Leroy Bussell enlisted in the U.S. Army in September 1944. He arrived in the Pacific on March 11, 1945. About three months later, he was wounded in Okinawa, Japan.
"He was told to grab a rifle and go to the front lines," Bussell's granddaughter, Suzanne Buemi, said.
A mortar exploded about 15 to 20 feet from where Bussell was walking.
After being patched up, Bussell was sent to the Philippines.
Over the years, he has remained fairly quiet about his time in the service, those who know him say.
"Heroes don't brag," his friend, Ike Serrano, said.
Serrano joined the VFW post in 1988 when Bussell was post commander.
"If it wasn't for the actions of this man, this post would not exist," Serrano said.
He said the post was one of the poorest in the state at the time.
"He's not only a hero ... This man is the best commander this post has ever had," Serrano said.
Buemi said her grandfather should have received the honor a long time ago.
It isn't uncommon for there to be gaps in the World War II military records, which means some of the veterans who should have received honors have either received them belatedly or not at all.
Bussell had previously received a bronze star for gallantry under fire, but he had to submit paperwork to receive his Purple Heart.
The U.S. Army mailed him the medal about two months ago.
"That's not OK to receive the Purple Heart in the mail," Buemi said.
The family and the VFW post worked together to arrange a ceremony to present Bussell with the medal.
"You deserve it," Buemi told her grandfather during the ceremony. "You served your country. You served your country proud."