"It's been a while".
That's what World War II veteran Henry Meek said on Wednesday after being awarded the Purple Heart.
Meek's Army plane was shot down in Europe back in 1944. The Gulfport native spent the next year as a German Prisoner of War.
Then the 61-year-wait finally came to an end.
Henry Meek says he didn't know how much the honor would mean to him, until he got his Purple Heart.
"It's a wonderful thing to receive," said Meek. "I didn't realize the importance of it really, but I do now. I'm most appreciative and so glad to have it."
"It was a dream come true," said his wife Irene. "I have waited and he wouldn't do anything about it, but I wanted him to have it so bad."
During the ceremony, Meek says his mind drifted back to thoughts of World War II. He thought of jumping from his plane before it went down over France, his broken ankle and a year as a POW.
Meek says after 61 years, those memories still affect him.
"It will be there always. With me always," he said.
Irene Meek said "He won't admit to some of the things he went through. He won't even mention it, but I know what it was."
Congressman Gene Taylor had a hand in getting Meek the recognition. Taylor's staff says it was long overdue.
Congressional aide Bob Carson said "Many of these veterans go for years unrecognized for the actions that they took during combat. It's important to us and to them and their families and it should be to this nation that they get recognized for the achievements and the sacrifices they've made."
The Meeks say they've already chosen where they'll hang the Purple Heart which is a symbol of sacrifices made for their country.
"Just do what you have to do," said Meek. "And do it as well as you can."
Henry Meek says he looked into getting a Purple Heart many years ago but was told he was ineligible. Ironically, the day he found out he would receive the award was the 61st anniversary of his plane being shot down.
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