Cape Coral, Florida (News-Press) -- Under hospice care and suffering from Alzheimer's disease anddementia, Roy Kratt distinctly recalls a bowl of tomato soup, his firstmeal after days of floating in the Pacific Ocean after the Navy ship hewas aboard was sunk by Japanese bombers.
"It was the best bowl of tomato soup he'd ever had after not eating for days," said his son, Richard.
Afteryears of being denied due to record mishaps, Roy Kratt, one of CapeCoral's first residents, finally received a Purple Heart on Wednesdayfor his service in World War II.
Roy Kratt was 17 on Oct. 15, 1942, when the USS Meredith was hit by Japanese bombs.
Theship was sinking so fast, he said, that there was no jumping off. Hesimply began to swim, even with shrapnel wounds he suffered fromexplosions on the ship. He and his surviving shipmates, eight officersand 73 enlisted men, of the 261 on board, treaded water for three days,exposed to the sun and open sea before they were rescued. Seventy-fiveof the 81 lived.
His sons, Bob and Richard, said he never spoke about it, but he began to open up over the last several years.
Richard Kratt said his father took the life jacket off a dead mate and was covered in oil when he was rescued.
Seventy-oneyears later, Kratt, 88, thought his family had gathered Wednesday for asmall reunion, but when TV crews surrounded the slight man, sitting on acouch in his living room, he knew something was up.
U.S. Rep Trey Radel knelt in front of him, and with words of gratitude, presented Kratt with his medal.
"You'rea hero," Radel, R-Fort Myers, told him. "Our community loves you, ourcountry loves you. I hope that this can be a small token of ourappreciation for everything that you have done for us. Thank you, sir."
"Thank you," Kratt said, bewildered.
Withhis wife of 35 years, Margaret, by his side, Kratt sat forward toexamine the medal, and later, Richard pinned it on his father's shirt.
"This is long overdue," Richard Kratt said.
Radeltold Kratt he should have received the medal years ago, but recordsdocumenting the veteran's injuries were destroyed in a militarywarehouse fire. It wasn't until Kratt's daughter-in-law, Nancy, aftermuch digging, contacted Dr. Barry Friedman, who treated Kratt, that thenecessary records were located.
Friedman,96, wrote a book titled "The Short Life of a Valiant Ship," detailingthe USS Meredith's sinking. The book lists each crewman's name -including Kratt's.
Radel expressed his gratitude at being able to give Kratt his medal.
"Undoubtedly, unquestionably, this is the proudest moment of my short time in service to this community," he said.
MargaretKratt said her husband was speechless at first. "He didn't want tobelieve it. It's been 70 years since the ship was sunk."
Kratt said that while it's good to receive a Purple Heart, he thinks about the guys that didn't get it.
ThePurple Heart was first presented by George Washington to three soldiersin 1782. It's awarded to service members who've been wounded duringaction against the enemy.