EXCLUSIVE: Western KY veteran receives Purple Heart decades later

HOPKINS CO., KY (WFIE) - Decades overdue. A western Kentucky World War II veteran and ex-prisoner of the war was presented with his Purple Heart.

Room W-101 of the Western Kentucky Veterans Center is home to Dudley Riley. It's decorated with memorabilia, dating back to the 1940s.

"During the drawdown on military in World War II, a lot of things were lost and misplaced and never presented," General Ben Adams, Commissioner of Kentucky Dept. of Veteran Affairs, explained.

This included Riley's Purple Heart, which was awarded, but the 95-year-old never received it. Kentucky Department of Veteran Affairs has been tracking it down for a year.

"He's a happy guy. Life of the room when he's around, and our pleasure to try to do this for him," Johnny Allen, Veterans Service Officer of Kentucky Dept. of Veterans Affairs, described.

Riley walked in on Wednesday morning to a room filled with family, friends and fellow veterans.

The celebration was a sensitive surprise.

"This Purple Heart means more to me than anything else," Riley told 14 News.

Riley started service in August of 1940. He spent five years on active duty, three of those overseas, and two in a German POW camp.

"If I had the wings of an angel, over these rusty wires I would fly. I thought of that many times," Riley recalled.

Riley recalls a repetitive cycle while being held, walking around the perimeter of the compound, being assigned the middle of three bunks.

"There were 16 cracks in the bed above me. I counted them many times," Riley said.

He wrote about those experiences in his book "Farmboy, Soldier, Daddy" including spending six days walking 120 miles through the snow.

"That's when these feet were frostbitten," Riley stated.

But Riley now stands strong, surrounded by those who support him.

"Very proud of you, sir. Thank you for your service; for everything you've done," General Adams told Riley.

"Just doing the job I was sent over there to do," Riley replied.

The Purple Heart is the oldest U.S. military decoration. The medal looks exactly the same as it did in 1932.

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