WAUKEGAN, Ill. — Marcos Luis Montano of Waukegan, 91, held his Purple Heart medal at Veterans Memorial Plaza for the first time last month.

During an outdoor presentation on May 31, U.S. Rep. Brad Schneider delivered the Purple Heart, along with four other military awards, to replace the medals missing from Montano’s time serving his country. Montano, a former Waukegan 1st ward alderman, had never seen the awards, his family said.

“I wanted to cry for him,” said his daughter Darlene Montano of Waukegan. “This was really, truly the first time he received those medals in his mind.” The Purple Heart medal was apparently stolen from Montano during the Korean War while he was recuperating in a hospital in Osaka, Japan. Montano, who was serving in the U.S. Army, was wounded on July 18, 1952. He had leg and arm shrapnel injuries and has scars, his daughter said. While recovering in the hospital, Montano said his Purple Heart award was hand-delivered, and he asked that it be placed in a nightstand drawer.

“I was conked out, let’s put it that way, I was feeling pain,” Montano said. Further recalling that memory, "The general asked me how I was feeling and I said, ‘I’m not feeling too good, I think I have some kind of infection or something.’ “I think I had a little fever,” he said, blaming his sickness that day from five or six days prior to also falling into a dirty puddle and being exposed to pollution.

Montano said he hadn’t had a bath in six or seven days, and told the general.

"He (the general) looked around and he said, ‘Give this man a bath.’

“And I got one great big bath,” Montano said, chuckling.

Marcos Montano, of Waukegan, Ill., shows off his replacement Purple Heart medal in Waukegan on May 30, 2020.

The Purple Heart, awarded to those killed or wounded while serving, was believed to be snatched by someone, possibly another hospital patient.

“I didn’t feel good but what can you do?” Marcos Montano said. "I didn’t feel good at all and I told people around there, but there was nothing they could do because these medals are only given once. “That’s what they said,” the veteran said. Montano served first in the United States Navy, starting active duty on May 1, 1948.

With the rank of seaman apprentice, he was honorably discharged from the United States Navy on Feb. 7, 1950. For this naval service time, he earned the China Service Medal, according to a discharge document.

Montano then entered active service in the U.S. Army on Oct. 10, 1951, and was honorably discharged, released from active military duty on Sept. 30, 1953, and transferred to the Army Reserve to complete eight years of service. These release documents state Montano earned the Korean Service Medal with three bronze stars, the United Nations Service Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, and the Purple Heart.

“We only knew of them because it was in military documents,” Darlene Montano said.

She reached out to Schneider’s office to request her father’s medals and military awards and was delighted to see the Purple Heart replacement included among them, she said. The presentation was supposed to be a surprise for the veteran, but COVID-19 caused the ceremony to be moved to May 30 and the veteran found out.

“I’ve always wanted to have him recognized for what he did,” his daughter said.

Schneider and Waukegan Mayor Sam Cunningham stood with Montano in front of the large raised flag sculpture on the plaza to make the presentation. In addition to the Purple Heart, he received the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award.

“We’re coming through an incredibly difficult time and what better inspiration could we possibly imagine than a hero of the Korean War, serving our nation, and coming back and serving his community and being able to reunite him with the medals he earned in his service to our country. It is just a reminder to all of us that each of us has our own way to serve,” Schneider said. “Today, we’re recognizing a true hero.”

Montano, who was born in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, held a variety of jobs during his civilian time, his daughter said. In 1951, he was a spray painter for a Kenosha, Wisconsin company. A former businessman in the 1970s, Montano was appointed for two years to be Waukegan 1st Ward alderman in the late 1960s, his daughter said. Cunningham was also a Waukegan 1st ward alderman.

“For him to serve his country, and let’s emphasize being a man of color, Puerto Rican, and then being able to come back and jump back in to be in public service, for Waukegan, that is the pride of Waukegan,” Cunningham said. “Everyone knows the Montano family.”

In 1957, Montano was pivotal in the incorporation of the Puerto Rican Society of Waukegan, a membership club for events and social gatherings, his daughter said. The Puerto Rican Society Credit Union was then established in 1965 by Montano, she said. “That was all my dad’s doing.” his daughter said.

“I’m very proud to be his grandson,” said Eduardo Rodriguez-Montano of Waukegan who attended the Saturday ceremony and took photos of his grandfather with family and well-wishers.

Cunningham said Marcos Montano will receive the City of Waukegan’s Waukegan Proud award this month.

“Mr. Montano has earned our Waukegan Proud award because he is the perfect example of having the love for our country and serving in the United States Army during the Korean War,” Cunningham said.

About serving in the military, “I feel great about that,” Marcos Montano said. “I feel great about my service.”

Source: Lake County News-Sun, https://bit.ly/3dyIH3z

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