WWII veteran, age 102, finally receives his medals

In 1941, before there was D-Day, or the flag raising on Iwo Jima, or Pearl Harbor, a young man from Missouri named Edward Flaherty Jr. put on an Army uniform.

After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Flaherty stayed on, serving his country and his fellow soldiers as an Army medic throughout the bloody Pacific Theater battles of World War II. As part of the 131st Engineer Regiment Medical Detachment, he helped treat wounded soldiers and assisted with evacuations.

Last week, more than 75 years after his service ended, Rev. Edward F. Flaherty, Jr., S.J., now 102 and a retired Jesuit priest and Regis University instructor, received official thanks from his country.

In a surprise ceremony last week at Regis’ Xavier House residence, U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Arvada) presented Flaherty with seven long overdue medals: the Army Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Service Stars; World War II Victory Medal; Honorable Service Lapel Button – WWII; and Philippine Liberation Ribbon with one Bronze Service Star.

Perlmutter’s office worked to procure the medals Flaherty had earned but never received. The ceremony featured letters of official thanks and lofty words about courage, commitment and selflessness from numerous dignitaries and elected officials, including Gov. Jared Polis. Perlmutter noted that Flaherty had survived not one, but two pandemics.

“Thank you. That’s all I can say – thank you for all these commendations that I don’t feel worthy of accepting,” Flaherty told the gathered group.

Clearly, none of the many friends and former colleagues who attended the ceremony shared that opinion. Before he pinned the medals on Flaherty’s chest, retired Army Major Gen. Steven P. Best noted that the former medic’s service didn’t end when he hung up his uniform.

Ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1965, Flaherty was a longtime theology instructor at Regis College and Regis Jesuit High School, and served as Lowry Air Force Base chaplain. He also was a pastor at Shrine of St. Anne Catholic church in Arvada until he retired in 2017 – at age 99.

“He has been a quiet force in our community for a very long time,” Perlmutter said.

The community and the state of Colorado will soon lose this quiet force, as Flaherty heads, reluctantly, to a Jesuit retirement home in St. Louis. “I’ll miss Colorado,” he said before the ceremony. “It’s been a wonderful place to be.”

His medals at last in place, Flaherty offered a few words to those gathered in what has been his hometown for the past 50-some years. “I hope that the spirit that invigorated us back in World War II and Korea . . .  that that same spirit will be passed on to the younger generation today.”

Flaherty lamented what he considers a reverence for material things taking priority over spiritual matters in too many lives today.

And the man who readily admits he doesn’t like the spotlight jokingly complained that he hadn’t been given advance warning about the Friday morning ceremony.

“Had I known this was coming, I would have fled to the mountains.”