HOWARD COUNTY, Md. (WJZ) — Friends gathered in the lobby of Lorien Health Services’ Harmony Hall, a residential care facility, along with 92-year-old Joe Cacioppo- only he had no idea that he was the reason they were all there.
It had been kept a secret until Lisa Terry, the manager of Howard County’s Office of Veterans and Military Families announced it was “to honor World War II marine veteran Joseph Cacioppo with the World War II victory medal,”
Like a lot of other World War II veterans, bureaucratic oversights kept that medal from ever finding Joe.
It was corrected 74 years later.
“All veterans from World War II should receive this medal, because they’re entitled to it,” Cacioppo said. And more were at the ceremony.
Louis Schott never expected, “At the age of 98 I was going to present a medal to a young Marine of 92,” He said.
Cacioppo was 17-years-old when he saw action in Iwo Jima, one of the deadliest battles of the war.
“I’ll tell you the truth, I didn’t think I’d make it off the island,” Cacioppo said.
Nearly 7,000 Marines died on Iwo Jima.
“When we went and disembarked we were eight Marines in one tent. Six of those Marines are still there,” Cacioppo said.
The battle raged for weeks after the iconic image of Marines raising the flag on Mount Suribachi. Cacioppo was wounded three times in the battle.
“I put a bandage on it and went back up to the line and then I got hit twice more,” Cacioppo said.
The physical wounds healed, but the memories have not faded.
“I’ve had nightmares all my life, since 22, that’s when I came out. I had nightmares, last week I had nightmares,” Cacioppo said.
The medal won’t stop those nightmares, but it is a tangible reminder of what so many endured to ultimately secure victory.