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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, March 8, 2009

Old soldier wears his medal for those 'still over there'

By William Cole
Advertiser Columnist

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Hawaii news photo - The Honolulu Advertiser

Albert E. Brum, left, a Canadian paratrooper during World War II, receives the Bronze Star from Brig. Gen. John Y.H. Ma decades after his service during ground combat in Europe. At center, Hawai'i Sen. Daniel K. Inouye observes the ceremony.

SGT. SUNSHINE GARCIA BIBIAN | U.S. Army

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Albert "Ab" Brum stood ramrod straight in his military uniform recently in U.S. Sen. Daniel K. Inouye's Honolulu office when he proudly received a Bronze Star for "exemplary performance of duty in active ground combat."

Iraq or Afghanistan vet? Nope. Brum parachuted into Normandy, France, as a 17-year-old Canadian paratrooper in 1944.

At 83, Brum has an Andy Griffith-like shock of white hair and a Bronze Star he was pinned with 65 years after the fact.

The explanation begins with Brum who now lives in Kane'ohe and is active with the Coast Guard auxiliary here as a 15-year-old living on a dairy farm in Ontario in 1942.

"I didn't want to milk cows anymore and carry out manure and do homework at the same time," Brum said.

So he joined the Black Watch Scottish Regiment, telling the Canadian military he was 17 and producing a forged letter from his mother giving her permission.

In 1943, he transferred to the 1st Canadian Parachute Battalion, and on June 7, 1944 the day after the invasion started he parachuted out of a C-47 over Normandy.

"I missed D-Day but I came in as a reinforcement because we lost so many at D-Day," Brum said.

Brum was a sniper, which did not make him popular.

"Nobody liked the sniper. They (other soldiers) just don't want to be near one because you draw gunfire, and also, the connotation of what you did they didn't want to be around you," he said.

Brum, who later became a U.S. citizen, is modest about his actions, which included being wounded.

"When it was called for to take a hill or fight our way through the protected areas that the Germans had, why, we just did it," he said.

Brum went on to serve in Korea, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Years ago, a friend suggested that Brum should have received a Bronze Star for his actions in World War II, and that started the inquiry ball rolling.

Brum was under the U.S. 1st Special Service Force at the time, which was half Canadian and half U.S. paratroopers.

On July 18, 2008, he received a letter, by order of the secretary of the Army, confirming his Bronze Star for actions from July to August 1944.

Brum said he was told he should contact a "VIP or a uniformed military member to make the presentation."

Brum knew of Inouye's service and sacrifice in World War II, and asked if Hawai'i's senior senator would help preside over the award.

Inouye did, along with Brig. Gen. John Y.H. Ma, deputy commander of the U.S. Army Reserve for the Pacific.

"Basically, the guys that earned that Bronze Star, they're still over there, and I'm here," Brum said. "I wear it, I guess, on their behalf."

Reach William Cole at wcole@honoluluadvertiser.com.