ROCK ISLAND ARSENAL — About eight months ago, Phillip Clong's heart was failing and his son Mark discovered his World War II Purple Heart was also broken.|
On Saturday morning, the Clong family's hearts were full as the 86-year-old Kewanee native (a Private First Class who served in the Army's Second Infantry Division) received a new Purple Heart Medal, among 11 awards in a ceremony at First Army headquarters.
"Better late than never," Command Sgt. Maj. Jesse Andrews, First Army, said of honoring Mr, Clong's dedicated service and sacrifice. "This ceremony is taking place far later than it should have."
World War II veterans "persevered in some of our most challenging times to help shape America as we know it today," he said. Often in their late teens or 20s, "an overarching sense of duty" compelled them to interrupt their education, career and lives to serve their country across the globe, Sgt. Maj. Andrews said, noting Mr. Clong and his twin brother Floyd were 18 when they enlisted on Aug. 3, 1944.
On Jan. 12, 1945, the brothers were sent to Europe to fight; at the time, their older brother Donald was serving in Belgium in the U.S. Medical Corps, where he drove an ambulance. On March 23, 1945 in a battle in Belgium, Phillip was wounded in the left leg, and a short time later while being removed from the area, a mortar round exploded into a tree, breaking it apart, fatally injuring Floyd. Both brothers received the Purple Heart, and Floyd is buried in Pleasant View Ceremony in Kewanee.
After the war, Phillip returned to Kewanee, worked for the Kewanee Boiler Company, married in 1954, and then worked at International Harvester in East Moline. He is twice divorced and has four children, 11 grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. Many family members (as well as current First Army soldiers) attended Saturday's event, where Mr. Clong's grandson Brandon accepted the glass-encased shadow box containing his grandfather's awards from Sgt. Maj. Andrews and U.S. Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Colona.
"What an awesome story." Rep. Schilling said. During his remarks, Mr. Clong told Brandon, "Now you know what Grandpa did." The Congressman noted he's attended an Honor Flight with World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., and said most vets of that era don't talk about their service.
"I'm very proud of him," Mr. Clong's son Mark — commander of the Sons of the American Legion Post 1233, Colona — said after the ceremony. "There are a lot of things we didn't know; now we know a lot more." Several of the uniformed members of the American Legion Honor Guard also attended the event.
Mark Clong said when his fatherhad an irregular heartbeat about eight months ago, he had a pacemaker put in, and as they started going through his personal effects, Mark found that his Purple Heart was broken, "and it kind of snowballed from there," he said, noting his family didn't know he had other awards coming.
Mark called Rep. Schilling about replacing the Purple Heart and they found Phillip was due this raft of other honors that he never received.
"He lost his twin brother. It means a lot to me; he's my father," Mark said. "It's overwhelming, actually, very nice. I'm very proud of him."
Phillip also is a member of the American Legion Post and Kewanee Veterans of Foreign Wars. He said he was honored to receive this recognition from the Army, 67 years later. Among his other awards are the Bronze Star, Good Conduct Medal, World War II Victory Medal and European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 2 Bronze Star Devices.
"It's immensely important for us, any opportunity we get, to show that gratitude for their sacrifice," Sgt. Maj. Andrews said. "It was tough fighting in very long, austere environments — a long time away from their families."
"They didn't have the amenities while they were deployed, at a very early age, that soldiers enjoy today," he said. "You're talking about very complex deployments, very hard deployments they had to persevere through. They didn't have the connectivity of all the different things — like Skype, email, Yahoo, Hotmail — we have today. It's very important for us to show our gratitude for sacrificing during some very tough battles."