Seaman Frederick C. Stone was badly wounded by Japanese fighter planes bombing the USS Butler off Okinawa in 1945.
Instead of boarding a hospital ship and saving himself, he returned to battle to rescue his comrades. For his act of valor, Stone was awarded the Purple Heart military decoration on Sunday — 70 years after his heroic efforts in World War II.
“It’s a great honor. It’s really impressive,” said Stone, 90, of Stony Brook, who spoke few words and used a walking cane to stand upright while accepting the medal during the ceremony at the Navy Operational Support Center in Farmingdale.
Stone was aboard the destroyer when Japanese planes attacked during the Battle of Okinawa, the last and largest of the Pacific Island campaigns.
He said he no longer remembers much about that day, but Navy officials said kamikazes, enemy pilots on suicide missions, repeatedly crashed their planes into or near his vessel.
During the battle, metal fragments from a plane pierced Stone’s back and chest, family members said.
Badly in need of medical attention, he resisted boarding a hospital ship and getting out of harm’s way, but managed to drag another wounded sailor to the vessel before returning to the action, firing at the Japanese planes, Navy Senior Chief Sean Carroll said Sunday.
Stone’s decision to stay and fight likely saved his life. The hospital ship was bombed a short while later, killing everyone aboard, including the comrade he had just saved, family members said.
Shortly after leaving the military, Stone was awarded several medals for his role in the war, including the Bronze Star for his bravery — but never the Purple Heart.
Many decades passed until one day, according to Stone’s daughter, Cynthia Garippa, 56, of Wheatley Heights, his medals were damaged and thrown away.
But in a twist of fate, when family members applied for the medals to be reissued, Rep. Lee Zeldin discovered that Stone should have been awarded the Purple Heart.
“He should have received it at the end of World War II,” said Carroll, who attended the ceremony with Zeldin, 30 of Stone’s relatives and about 100 seaman.
Zeldin (R-Shirley), a major in the Army Reserve, worked about a year to help Stone get the Purple Heart. Established by Gen. George Washington at Newburgh in 1782 during the Revolutionary War, the medal honors military veterans wounded or killed in the line of duty.
“A long overdue recognition of sacrifice” Zeldin said before calling Stone “a true American hero.”