World War II hero receives Purple Heart in mail 68 years later

Col. Richard Kenney was POW for three years

CORONADO, Calif. - A local World War II veteran recently opened his mailbox and found a Purple Heart medal inside -- 68 years late.

For Air Force Col. Richard Kenney, it was like any other day checking the mail, except the small envelope that arrived contained a prestigious military award.

"I never thought I'd win the longevity lottery," said Kenney, who turned 94 years old on March 2.

Kenney, a pilot during World War II, was shot down by the Germans over Sicily and was badly burned. He said he wasn't supposed to fly that day and only volunteered to spare some of the younger pilots.

Kenney was captured and spent three years as a prisoner of war.

Kenney, along with 11,000 other starved and beaten prisoners, were ordered to march deep into Germany in 1945 in one of the most horrific events of World War II. It was the worst blizzard in 50 years, and the prisoners were forced to march 60 miles, starving and eating raw rats. If they stopped, they were told they would be shot. Kenney, already burned, suffered severe frostbite on his hands and feet. At least 1,300 prisoners did not survive.

"The men would try to waterproof their shoes with leftover margarine; it didn't work," Kenney told 10News.

Almost seven decades later, Kenney's Purple Heart arrived. Most of the time he keeps it out of sight at his home, and local historian Dot Harms said it's because of modesty and because of the memories the award brings up.

"Trudging through the snow endlessly with frostbite, starving … there was no food; literally every blade of grass had been eaten," said Harms, the former director of the Coronado Historical Society.

She said Kenney, who has his prisoner of war number on his license plate, downplays it all, adding, "He says, 'Aw, the conditions were crummy,' but that's Dick Kenney."

One day, a veteran in Arizona called Kenney and told him he was eligible for a Purple Heart. Kenney was adamant he wanted no ceremony.

"It's just that some people like to be in the limelight and some people don't," Kenney said.

Kenney said some things can't be said and some things are private.

"I'm not that type," he told 10News.

It is estimated that 1.7 million Purple Hearts have been awarded in the U.S.

Kenney now owns two Purple Hearts.

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