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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two American heroes have been honored with the highest recognition in the land, both receiving a Congressional Gold Medal.
The World War II veterans were honored in Washington, but they wanted a ceremony to happen at home in St. Johns County.
Ed Trester and Bill Pruitt were merchant marines, serving in some of the most dangerous roles any American took on.
“It’s certainly an honor,” Trester said during the May event in Washington. “I’d like to accept on behalf of all who never made it home.”
“I crossed the Atlantic, four roundtrips en route to the Mediterranean between ‘42 and ‘45,” Pruitt said during the Washington ceremony.
The accolades are meaningful — whether given in Florida, or on Capitol Hill. They wanted to celebrate in their home city of St. Augustine.
“People of St. Augustine, over the last 72 years — it’s a great place to raise a child,” Pruitt said Thursday.
“I wanted to get the medal here in front of family and friends,” Trester explained.
Those family and friends — and Congressman Michael Waltz — helped the veterans feel an appreciation almost 80 years in the making.
“I just want to say, the years I spent in the Merchant Marines as a young man, the years I spent on the open ocean, I think it made a better person of myself, overall,” Trester said.
“It’s real wonderful,” Pruitt said. “It’s just that we were never acknowledged and that’s tough because so many people died.”
Pruitt pointed out that the life of a merchant marine in World War II meant incredible risk. He says one out of every 27 people in that service died between 1941 and 1945.