East Texas WWII veteran who received medals 69 years later dies of heart attack

East Texas WWII veteran who received medals 69 years later dies of heart attack
Ben Weber wipes his eyes at a ceremony in February 2014. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Ben Weber wipes his eyes at a ceremony in February 2014. (Source: KTRE Staff)
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Source: KTRE Staff
Ben Weber (Source: Weber Family)
Ben Weber (Source: Weber Family)

POLLOK, TX (KTRE) - A Pollok man who received some of the medals he earned during the Battle of Iwo Jima during World War II 69 years later died of a heart attack Wednesday, according to a friend of the family.

James Bledsoe said Weber's friend said the war veterans was truly one of a kind.

"I have lost a good friend," Bledsoe said. "He has a way with people."

He said the two met at church 10 years and bonded over being veterans. Bledsoe said fondest memories with Weber were exchanging war stories.

"He was at Iwo Jima. He was one of a 36 Army personnel there," Bledsoe said.

"I am so deeply saddened to hear about the death of a true patriot," said US Rep Louie Gohmert, R-Tyler. "Mr. Weber, Lufkin resident and World War II veteran was truly an asset and inspiration to others. His love for and service to this great country made us unmistakably better.

Back on Feb. 23, which would have been 69 years and four days since US forces started the battle to take the small Pacific island of Iwo Jima. On that Sunday, Weber stood in front of his family members, friends, and church and finally received three medals his days in the US Army.

At the ceremony, Gohmert presented Weber with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medal, the World War II Victory Medal, a medal for expert-level marksmanship, an Honorable Service Pin, and a flag that flew over the Capitol Building in Washington, D.C.

"[I]t was such an umitigated honor to present Mr. Weber with medals earned during his remarkable World War II service to this country," Gohmert said. "Hearing him speak of his fallen comrades, his heartbreak at their loss, and his love for them, was moving beyond measure. My thoughts and prayers go out to Mr. Weber's loved ones who cared so deeply for him."

Weber already had a Silver Star, which is the third highest military honor in the United States.

Weber wore his WWII uniform to the ceremony.

"It's really been a blessing for me because my family always said you never got what you deserved," Weber said in a previous East Texas News story.

Gohmert said the service helped people understand the sacrifices people like Weber made during WWII.

During the Battle of Iwo Jima, Weber was shot in the eye and in the leg. However, his fallen comrades were still on his mind 69 years later.

"I lost several men. I was a leader and I didn't know how to handle that at first, and I think a lot of men don't,” Weber said. “These are the things that I think about, and I don't deserve. These men died, and I'm here. I did lose an eye and part of a leg, but hey, I do anything I want to do, and I'm happy."

"It's people like Ben standing up that has made a difference," Gohmert said back in February.

A fire destroyed most Weber's service and injury records, which is why some of his medals arrived late. Gohmert said in a previous East Texas News story that he would not stop until Weber received his Purple Heart.

Back in May, Weber and other World War II veterans from East Texas got a chance to visit the World War II Memorial, the Iwo Jima Memorial, and other sites in Washington, D.C., as part of the Brookshire's grocery chain's Heroes Flight.

They got to see the changing of the guard ceremony at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

"I happened to be a squad commander, and I lost half my squad, and that was on Iwo Jima," Weber said during the Heroes Flight trip. "And of course, there was a lot of other boys who lost their lives, and the deepest respect we can have can these days, is to say, 'We love you, we thank you, and will never forget you.'"

When the group of WWII veterans went to see the World War II Memorial, they were treated like celebrities, according to a previous East Texas News story. They shook hands with visitors and had their pictures take. People from all over the country told them how glad they were to see them.

Weber was a native of New York but calls Lufkin his home. He joined the service at age of 17 on Long Island. He owned a courier service with First Bank and Trust.

Weber taught Sunday school every week at Southside Baptist Church in Lufkin, and he thanked the church for the blessings they have bestowed upon him after he received his medals.

At the medal presentation ceremony, Weber said he was excited to have three rows of family members present for his big day.

Weber's funeral service is set for Sunday at Southside Baptist Church in Lufkin.

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