By Brandon HENSLEY
The first letter came from the United States government dated April 12, 1945:
My Dear Mr. and Mrs. Anderson, a brief report has been received that your son, private first class Samuel L. Anderson Jr, United States Marine Corps Reserve, was wounded in action against the enemy on 11, March 1945 at Iwo Jima, Volcano Islands. Your anxiety is realized …
On May 5, 1945, a second letter:
My Dear Mr. and Mrs. Anderson … your son sustained a blast concussion and on 11, March ’45 was reported as being in a hospital for further treatment. You may be sure he is receiving the best of medical care. Your anxiety is realized …
Feb. 9, 2017: On a bright morning in Canoga Park, Todd Anderson was getting mic’d up by a TV news audio man in a parking lot across the street from Henri’s Restaurant.
“It’s an honor to do this story,” the man told Todd, while attempting to hide the equipment under Todd’s black button shirt and jeans. “I’m a vet myself. We just don’t do enough of these stories.”
Minutes later, accompanied by friends, family, Marines and Glendale police officers, Todd, a former Glendale police lieutenant, and his brother Jim crossed the street and headed into Henri’s through the back. A poor man’s version of the iconic Steadicam scene in “Goodfellas,” the backdoor entrance led everyone to a more secluded side area where Lee Anderson sat, unprepared for this moment.
A moment 72 years in the making.
Every day in the world, Americans fight for the red, white and blue, but one of the highest honors a veteran can receive comes in a different color. In the back of Henri’s, surrounded by cameras, wires and microphones ready to broadcast for all of Southern California to see, Anderson, whose records showed him to be 5’7,” stood as tall as anyone as he finally became a Purple Heart recipient.
“I don’t know how you got here. I don’t know how they did it,” Anderson said of his sons. “It’s an honor for me to have it. I’m thankful for my boys for getting it for me.”
He never talked about his time as a Marine. Listed as Cpl. Anderson in 1943, he was 17 years old with blue eyes, a rifle marksman weighing 131 pounds from Venice, California.
“This is a fighting machine,” Jim joked to the crowd.
Anderson went off to fight in World War II. He was injured 21 days into the battle of Iwo Jima on March 11, 1945.
Anderson lived his post-service life as a plumber – “My mom used to joke you could ask him a simple plumbing question and he would talk for two hours straight,” said niece Carla Taravella – but he kept his past experiences close to the vest, as many veterans do. Two years ago, his sons decided to search for his records. They found the letters, and learned that he was eligible for a Purple Heart, but had never received it. So they sent away for it. Todd called one one day while Jim was driving back from San Diego.
You’re not going to believe this, he said, but the medal arrived. Jim had to pull over to take it all in.
There was more. At the presentation on Thursday, Jim unveiled a shadow box of other awards their father was entitled to: a Combat Action Ribbon for service, a Presidential Unit Citation; an American Campaign Medal, a WWII Victory Medal and a Rifle Marksmanship badge.
“Had he passed away anywhere along the lines, I don’t believe we ever would have known this,” Jim said.
“He’s a very simple person,” Todd added. “Doesn’t want anything from anybody. He would give you the shirt off his back.”
His shirt had to stay on for this, as the heart was pinned on him by Lt. Col. Aaron Doty.
“As a brother, as another Marine, this is an absolute honor, and this is what Marines do,” Doty said. “We take care of each other ferociously.”
Taravella, whose father Anthony grew up with Anderson and served with him in the Marine Corps, said the family was planning to make this an Easter surprise. Then again, thought the boys, why wait? Anderson spends almost every day eating breakfast at Henri’s. It would be sufficient to do it there.
Anthony passed away several years ago, but his daughter was there to take in the moment, sharing tears with friends and family on this morning.
All these years later, the young man detailed in the letters to his parents 72 years ago was present for this one, as a statement was read to him upon placement of his Purple Heart. It came from the United States Marine Corps, dated Feb. 2, 2017:
This is to certify the President of the United States has awarded the Purple Heart, as established by General George Washington at Newburgh, New York, August 7, 1782 to Private First Class, Samuel L. Anderson, United States Marine Corps, for wounds received in action.
Anxiety realized no more.
“I knew I’d get the Heart someday, but nothing like this,” Anderson said.