Tucson resident Joe Sooter never talked much about World War II.
He'd get with some of his friends, several of them veterans from the South Pacific Theater, and talk at Legion Post 7, Sooter's son Randy recalled.
"Most of the time, they were just quiet," Randy said.
Last Wednesday, in an office courtyard off Oracle Road, Arizona Sen. John Kyl presented Randy Sooter with a Bronze Star, earned by Private First Class Joe Sooter in fierce fighting in the Pacific some 65 years ago.
The Bronze Star is awarded to American soldiers "who had borne the hardship" of war, distinguishing themselves by heroic or meritorious service, Kyl read.
As part of Troop E, 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, PFC Sooter "demonstrated fidelity through faithful and exact performance of duty in action" during the Admiralty Islands campaign, waged in what is now Papua New Guinea in early 1944.
The U.S. believed there were "very few enemy on the Admiralty Islands" when they landed ashore, and gained tactical surprise, on Feb. 29, Kyl said. In fact, the islands were "far from unoccupied. There were a lot of Japanese troops," and a "furious battle ensued," Kyl said. In the end, the Americans and allies were able to reinforce the post and eventually take control on May 18.
"It became a very important launching point for the campaign against Japan," Kyl said. "He was doing more than just his duty, he was going above and beyond that."
After his military service, Staff Sgt. Joe Sooter started Sooter's Auto Service off Orange Grove Road. Randy served during the Vietnam War, in 1965-66, then came back to help his dad at the shop in 1968. Joe died June 1, 1980.
Randy's mom Guillemina died in 2000. When he went through boxes in her home, Randy found a request for the Purple Heart for his father dated in 1945. He brought it to the attention of Kyl's office, inquiring about his father's eligibility for recognition. Several awards were due, including the Bronze Star.
"They're called the greatest generation, and there's a reason for it," Kyl said. "Day in and day out," the World War II generation of Americans fought for their country, "and it took a lot of tough people to get it done."