Montrose VFW Hosts Special Ceremony
MONTROSE – World War II veteran Cleo Elliot got his Purple Hearts, three of them, and his Bronze Star for valor, 68 years after he earned them on Iwo Jima.
Elliot received the awards at a special gathering of the Montrose Veterans of Foreign Wars at Friendship Hall on Tuesday night, Aug. 28. The ceremony came as “a total surprise” to the 92-year-old retired auto mechanic. His friend and fellow veteran, Colonel Jim Beard, had been working through the Veterans Administration for more than two years to secure the decorations, but hadn’t let on to his “good buddy.”
The actual pinning of the medals occurred in a brisk and somber sequence. VFW Commander George Lawrence read from the citation: “On 19 February, 1944, Corporal Cleo Elliot, a member of C Company, 3rd Tank Battalion of the 3rd Marine Division, went ashore during the amphibious assault and was badly wounded in the leg by a grenade as he negotiated the beach. His wound was treated and he continued in the assault with a bandaged leg. Thus he is awarded his first Purple Heart.”
Beard, a veteran of the Korean War and 42 years in the service, took the first medal from a pillow held by the young honor guard at his side and pinned it, with shaking hands and labored breath, to Elliot’s chest.
The two men shook hands and saluted each other. A short time after the leg wound, Lawrence continued to read, Elliot attempted to rescue the crew from a burning tank and had sustained grievous burns to his arms. Purple Heart number two. And the Bronze Star Medal for valor.
Beard worked the second and third pins into the older man’s blue breast pocket, stepped back smartly and saluted again.
Approximately one week later, “with his arms heavily bandaged, [Elliot] was assigned to a defensive position in expectation of a Japanese counterattack. This attack was a final, fanatical bayonet charge on his unit’s position during which Corporal Elliot was slashed in the arm by bayonet. Thus he is awarded his third Purple Heart.”
Nearly overcome with emotion, Beard managed to speak his gratitude, and his regret that the medals had come “68 years too late.”
But Elliot, straight and clear-eyed, with a shock of white hair, had not felt slighted by the delay. He had not applied to receive the medals, or the extra compensation that came with them. It had not occurred to him.
“In 19 and 46,” he told me after the ceremony in his formal, Southern way, “I had a guaranteed job that I had left in Dallas, Texas, when I joined the Marines. I went back to that. I was just off of it. I never did have time to do anything with the military after that.”
Elliot worked in “the automobile repair business. I was raised in that.” And he did just fine for himself and his family. His daughter Judy Sitton, of Montrose, was with him Tuesday night, as was his granddaughter Laura Sitton, of Olathe.
Beard and Elliot met four-and-a-half years ago when Beard moved to Montrose. The two men took drives together to Fort Carson in Colorado Springs, “delivering books and candy” to the troops there, Beard said. “On the road, Cleo told me his story. I said you ought to apply for those awards. He could have been receiving monetary compensation all these years. But he told me, ‘Give it to some other guy who really needs it.’ Cleo’s a true American. I’d do anything for him.”
On his own, Beard contacted the VA and “got the paperwork going.” He didn’t tell his friend until Tuesday night.
“I had no idea it would materialize,” Elliot said, his chest jingling with purple and bronze. “Actually, I was shocked.”
Noting his friend’s remarkable fitness, Beard told me that Elliot “still crawls under cars” to work on them.
“Next week I’m getting a new engine for that ’41 Jeep,” Elliot said. “I don’t age that much.”
Judy Sitton pointed out the Gold Star pin that her father was wearing in his VFW cap. It is issued to family members who have lost a son or daughter in combat. Judy’s son, Elliot’s grandson, was killed in Afghanistan in 2006.
Montrose VFW Hosts Special Ceremony