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U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., presents Gerry Hebert with the 11 medals he earned during World War II. 

World War II vet gets belated military medals

MANCHESTER — Gerry Hebert celebrates his 88th birthday Wednesday. His gifts came early, Monday, when two U.S. senators presented 11 medals he had earned some seven decades earlier in World War II.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte and John McCain congratulated Hebert, whose military service included being a machine gun infantryman and 18 months as a German prisoner of war.

&#';No one can fully understand the rigors of combat and captivity that you experienced,&#'; said McCain, who took a detour from a day of campaigning for Mitt Romney to meet Hebert.

&#';It's Gerry and his greatest generation that made America what it is,&#'; McCain said.

Hebert, who walks with a cane, came by Ayotte's office the day of her televised speech at the Republican National Convention last month and asked about his medals.

Within weeks, he and grateful family members were standing in Ayotte's office discussing his life.

Hebert grew up in Hooksett with six brothers, all who served in either World War II or the Korean War. He was a sergeant with the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. During the battle of Anzio, he repaired a broken machine gun by taking it apart on his chest in order to avoid enemy fire.

He was captured at Anzio; his brother, Roger Hebert, was serving in the South Pacific and saw his brother as a German POW in a newsreel film. Hebert said POW camps were about starvation, and he slept with his shoes tied around his neck to prevent them from being stolen. He also tried to escape.

&#';I was a rat. If they needed someone to dig underground, I did it. I was so skinny,&#'; he said.

The medals included the Bronze Star, the POW Medal, the presidential unit citation, the combat infantryman badge 1st award and the sharpshooter badge with machine gun bar.

mhayward@unionleader.com

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