Editor's note: Francis Byrne passed away Thursday, Jan. 3, at his home in New Hampshire.
Francis Byrne has waited 74 years to fill an empty spot in a display case that holds the medals he received from fighting in the Battle of the Bulge. The 94-year-old World War II Army veteran and Legionnaire, who is battling terminal cancer, recently received news that his wait was over.
Byrne was to receive his Purple Heart.
On Friday, Dec. 14, Byrne was presented with his long overdue medal by New Hampshire National Guard Adjutant Gen. Brig. David J. Mikolaities, and Sergeant Major of the Army Daniel Dailey. The ceremony was held at the Elliot Hospital Conference Center in Manchester, N.H., where Byrne shared in his excitement alongside family and members of his Henry J. Sweeney Inc. American Legion Post 2, including Post Commander Daniel Beliveau and Post Adjutant and New Hampshire National Executive Committeeman William "Bill" Roy.
Beliveau said Post 2 "is very proud of Francis Byrne for his service to our country during World War II. His actions during combat in Europe demonstrate the finest qualities of the members of the Greatest Generation. And serve as an outstanding example for our next generation who are now serving the United States both in uniform and out of uniform."
The post presented Byrne with the Department of New Hampshire's Centennial coin.
Byrne was injured in Belgium in 1944 when he was hit in the leg by shrapnel from a German land mine. A display case on a wall inside his home includes medals for D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, Combat Service, Army Good Conduct, World War II Victory and the French Croix de Guerre. After being diagnosed with terminal kidney and bladder cancer a few months ago, and only given four months to live, Byrne’s wish was to receive his Purple Heart to hang in the case as well.
The office of Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., has helped make Byrne’s wish come true by advocating for his long-overdue award. Shaheen told the Union Leader that the lieutenant who was going to write Byrne up for his Purple Heart was killed in battle. "So it's taken this long to get that recognition that he so deserves."
Shaheen spoke with Secretary of the Army Dr. Mark Esper about Byrne's overdue award, and shared with Esper that “Mr. Byrne is a World War II hero, a member of the Greatest Generation, and he deserves this honor."
Following the call with Esper, Shaheen called Byrne to share his long-awaited news.
“I started shaking … I was so emotional,” Byrne told the Union Leader. “I didn’t think I would live to see the day.”