WASHINGTON — 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 pilot, 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 5½ years in captivity in North Vietnam.
"I wanted him more than any other man to present" the citation, Pedevillano said. "I appreciate all the service he's done and the courage he showed."
Pedevillano, who worked for Westinghouse after the war helping build radar systems for jet fighters, said his only regret is that his wife of 64 years, Gloria, did not live to see the ceremony. Pedevillano's sister, Josephine, and nearly two dozen other family members attended the ceremony, which featured an Air Force string quartet and military color guard.
Pedevillano's son-in-law, Bill Vucci, said Pedevillano survived his ordeal though his deep belief in God.
"It was faith that got him through," Vucci said.