67 years later, veteran finally accepts medals from Battle of Okinawa

Montraville "Monte" Lybrand, 86, received several medals, including the Bronze Star, for his role in the Battle of Okinawa.
Montraville "Monte" Lybrand, 86, received several medals, including the Bronze Star, for his role in the Battle of Okinawa. (APRIL SAUL / Staff Photographer)
Posted: October 14, 2012

Sixty-seven years did not blot out the searing memories of the Battle of Okinawa for World War II infantryman Montraville "Monte" Lybrand.

He held his hand to his quivering chin, bowed his head, and whispered, "You always remember the ones that didn't make it." With blue eyes welling up, he waited for composure. "I was with them for such a short period of time," he finally managed to say. "We were buddies."

Over the decades, Lybrand, of Drexel Hill, rarely spoke of his experience in one of the war's bloodiest episodes, dispensing his fighting past only in "little bits and pieces," said his oldest daughter, Kathleen Murtaugh.

Yet, suddenly at 86, he decided he wanted the medals that were due him from the 82-day assault that took the lives of 12,500 comrades.

On Friday, at a ceremony in the Delaware County office of U.S. Rep. Patrick Meehan (R., Pa.), Lybrand stood proud as his blue blazer was festooned with hardware: the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Theater Medal, the Army of Occupation Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Rifle Marksmanship Badge, the Honorable Service Lapel Button - and, in a surprise to Lybrand, the Bronze Star, the fourth-highest combat decoration.

"There were many who were not thanked in the rush to come home," Meehan said. "They never received the full recognition they deserved."

Andrew Colket, a district representative in Meehan's office, said he had lost count of the number of World War II veterans who've asked whether they can still get their medals.

"They wait until the end," Colket said. But by then, proving they are owed the medals often is impossible; the requisite paperwork is gone.

Although he didn't tell his family much about Okinawa, Lybrand recently was assembling the war memorabilia he will pass on them. In the process, he decided to pursue whatever medals were owed him, and Colket helped it happen.

Lybrand grew up in Southwest Philadelphia and went to John Bartram High School. He got as far as 11th grade. On Sept. 27, 1944, he joined the U.S. Army and headed for the Pacific Theater with Company C, 32d Infantry, 7th Division, as a mortar man.

The invasion of Okinawa in early April 1945 ended in mid-June with more than 50,000 Americans dead or wounded, and 100,000 casualties among the Japanese force. Estimates put Okinawan civilian casualties as high as 100,000.

Lybrand, who arrived on the island on May 1, recalled the unrelenting rain. "You lived in the mud," he said, with the constant screaming of shells overhead.

On May 29, after less than a month in battle, one of those explosives hit near his mortar station. Shrapnel ripped into Lybrand's chest. He was evacuated by air to Guam, where doctors told him he was a lucky man.

"A few more inches," he said Friday, "and I might not be standing here today."

After the war, Lybrand enrolled at Benjamin Franklin High School in Philadelphia. He married his sweetheart, Catherine Rafferty, went to work for the Veterans Administration in 1950 as a disabilities claims accountant, settled in Drexel Hill, and raised five children. He retired in 1981.

As his legacy, Lybrand already has two scrapbooks from his Army days for his family. Now he will add a shadowbox brimful of medals that, though long overdue, have arrived in time.

Contact Mari A. Schaefer at 610-892-9149, mschaefer@phillynews.com, or follow @MariSchaefer on Twitter.

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