BLOOMINGTON — Paul Penn is rarely — if ever — seen without his "World War II Veteran" hat on his head.
"He wears that constantly," said his son, John Penn.
The same was true Thursday when Paul Penn celebrated his 90th birthday with an influx of visitors stopping by his Bloomington home. But the hat — like the day — included something special: It had a variety of ribbons Penn earned during his tour of duty with the U.S. Army from 1943 to 1945.
On a table nearby were two medals he also earned.
All together, Penn earned the World War II Victory Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, a Europe-Africa-Middle East Ribbon, the Army Overseas Service Ribbon and four Bronze Battle Stars. But he didn't actually get them until this week.
"A lot of World War II vets didn't get their ribbons and medals," said John Penn, vice president and Midwest regional manager of Laborers' International Union of North America.
LIUNA formed a veterans' committee that helps gets such medals — as well as a variety of other things including deserved disability pay — for veterans. The Midwest Veterans Committee worked to get Paul Penn's medals and ribbons and John Penn delivered them to his dad this week.
Paul Penn wanted to wear the medals on his hat as well, but they were too heavy.
Military service has always been important to Penn and his family.
"My great-grandfather served in the Civil War; my grandfather, the Spanish War; my dad, World War I; and me and my brother, World War II," he said.
Each of his sons also served: Don was in the Navy; David in the Army and John in the Air Force. Grandson Jeffery also has served in the armed forces.
He could fill hours talking about the time he spent in France and Germany serving under Gen. George Patton. Penn was in a truck company delivering supplies such as gasoline and ammunition or transporting nurses and doctors.
One time, his truck unit was transferring prisoners — and ended up with two more than he started with. Another time, he was transporting some of the money that Adolf Hitler had confiscated and the troops had discovered.
"There were 20 to 25 trucks transporting the money," he said. "I had the money (taken by Hitler) from England."
Every move of that convoy was followed by planes flying overhead, he said.
Once home, Penn combined his devotion for the military with his devotion for laborers. Before he was drafted, Penn was a laborer, and he returned to the profession once home.
In 1957, he was elected vice president of Laborers' Local 362 in 1957. He was business manager for the local until 1969. He became assistant business agent in 1971.
As a laborer and a veteran, Penn always had a soft heart when it came to helping with veteran projects. Among numerous projects in the Twin Cities, he volunteered on the Vietnam/Korean War Memorial at Miller Park and the World War II wall project at the McLean County Courthouse.
by Mary Ann Ford, Bloomington Pantagraph