Frank Walden planned to observe June 6 the way he has since he suffered shrapnel wounds and a broken shoulder during the D-Day invasion -- by thinking of those who weren't as lucky as he was.
"I've had 85 years, three daughters, a great family," said Walden, a Navy corpsman who tended to casualties on Omaha Beach before becoming one himself. "Those (killed in action) didn't get that chance."
This year's anniversary came with an unexpected twist. Walden, 85, a retired firefighter who lives in Walnut Creek, was awarded the Bronze Star and the Combat Medical Badge in a ceremony at the Naval Amphibious Base on Coronado Island, near San Diego.
Though Walden was the first of his 84-man battalion to receive the citations, every member of the 6th Naval Beach Battalion who participated in the June 6, 1944, invasion will receive them -- most posthumously.
"The good thing about this is everybody is going to get it, alive or dead," Walden said.
That he was under consideration for the medals came as a surprise to Walden, for two reasons. One, they are Army citations (Walden's Navy group was eligible because it was attached to an Army engineer brigade). And two, almost seven decades had passed since The Longest Day.
Walden credited Kenneth Davey, a retired teacher from New York whose father (since deceased) was a medic on Omaha Beach on D-Day, with pursuing the issue with the Army.
"He keeps fighting for things, for his dad," said
Walden didn't get much notice before the ceremony.
"They called us a few days before," said Walden, who initially declined because he had three graduations to attend.
"The guy said, 'Then I can send it to you,' " Walden said. "I said, 'Send what?' 'The Bronze Star and the Combat Medical Badge.' I said, 'How did that happen?' "
Walden and his wife flew to San Diego on June 5 and were put up at the Navy Lodge. Walden was the only honoree at the June 6 ceremony, receiving his medals from U.S. Navy Cmdr. Erik Nilsson.
"They did it on the beach," Walden said. "It was top drawer. I've never been treated like that in my life. It was just awesome."
The next day, he bought a newspaper, saw his picture and went back to buy three more.
"The guy said, 'What are you going to do, sell them?' " Walden said. "I pointed to the picture and said, 'That's me.' "
It was the second time this year Walden has been honored for his actions on D-Day. In January, he was presented the Legion of Honor, France's highest honor, at the French consulate in San Francisco.
"It's been a big year," he said.
Contact Gary Peterson at 925-952-5053. Follow him on Twitter at twitter.com/garyscribe.