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70 years later, WWII bombardier receives presidential honor

Retired U.S. Air Force 2nd Lt., John R. Pedevillano, 93, of College Park, Md., wipes tears from his eyes after Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., and Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Air Force, Gen. Larry Spencer, honored him with the Presidential Unit Citation with one Oak Leaf Cluster during a ceremony on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, July 7, 2015. Pedevillano served in the U.S. Army Air Corps as the youngest bombardier in the 306th Bomb Group, flew six combat missions and survived being shot down by Nazi fighter pilots. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

WASHINGTON (AP) — At 22, 2nd Lt. John Pedevillano was the youngest bombardier in the U.S. Army Air Corps’ 306th Bomb Group when he was shot down by Nazi fighter pilots in Germany in 1944.

Pedevillano and his crew were missing for a month before being taken as prisoners of war. The men were liberated by U.S. Army forces under Gen. George S. Patton in 1945.

More than 70 years later, Pedevillano has received the Presidential Unit Citation, with one Oak Leaf Cluster, for extraordinary heroism in combat. Pedevillano, a B-17 bombardier, flew six combat missions before being shot down over southwest Germany on April 24, 1944.

Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., himself a former prisoner of war, awarded the presidential citation at a ceremony Tuesday at the U.S. Capitol. McCain called the ribbon a small token of the esteem in which Pedevillano and his fellow soldiers are held.

“I promise you, you are an inspiration for those now serving and those who will serve” in the future, McCain told a beaming Pedevillano.

The retired bombardier, who turns 93 later this month, said he was overwhelmed at receiving the citation, one of the military’s highest honors.

“I didn’t expect anything like this,” he told reporters as he fought off tears at a brief news conference after the ceremony.

“I didn’t do any more or any less” than millions of others who served in the war, Pedevillano said. “I just appreciate the chance that I served my country.”

Pedevillano, of College Park, Md., said he was especially honored that McCain presided over the ceremony, saying that he requested McCain’s presence because of their shared history as prisoners of war. McCain, a Navy pilot and son of an admiral, spent 5

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