By Mike Urban, Reading Eagle
Of all the big decisions Joseph DeLucia has made in his 90 years, the most important likely came on Dec. 7, 1941.
The night before - a Saturday - DeLucia went out on the town with some fellow servicemen stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii.
They were eating, drinking and having fun and got back to the base pretty late.
When his friends went to get breakfast in the mess hall, DeLucia headed back to his barracks to turn in.
The Reading native believes that decision saved his life.
Minutes later, as DeLucia prepared to lie in his cot, Japanese planes began attacking the base. The mess hall was hit by enemy fire, and some of his friends who had gone there were killed.
DeLucia was not hurt.
"I was tired and I wanted to lie down, and that's the reason I'm alive today," he said.
DeLucia was an Army Air Corps technical sergeant. He spent 32 years in the military, surviving not just Pearl Harbor but also the battles of Midway and Guadalcanal, where he saw the heaviest fighting of all.
Now living in Barto, DeLucia was recently surprised to learn that medals he had earned had finally arrived, almost 70 years after the Pearl Harbor attack.
DeLucia received 10 medals Oct. 7 during a ceremony in the Allentown office of U.S. Rep. Charles W. Dent, a Lehigh County Republican who also represents part of Berks County.
Among those medals was the Distinguished Service Medal, the fourth highest award a service member can receive.
"Like so many veterans of World War II, Mr. DeLucia was involved in a historic and iconic battle that forever changed the United States and ultimately the entire world," Dent said. "Americans may never be able to fully thank veterans like Mr. DeLucia for their sacrifice.
"But I am hopeful these medals will help illustrate our profound gratitude and appreciation for his service to our nation."
Unfortunately, there are often long delays in the awarding of medals to veterans, said Dale G. Derr, Berks County director of veterans affairs.
"Many American military members who served during periods of war were never fully recognized for their valor or achievement," he said. "War can be chaotic and overwhelming, so proper recognition of units and individuals didn't always happen."
Derr was happy to learn DeLucia finally received his medals, especially since Pearl Harbor survivors are among America's oldest living veterans. DeLucia is one of only a handful of Pearl Harbor survivors remaining in Berks.
DeLucia and another Pearl Harbor survivor, Lyle Koenig of Bernville, will be honored this morning by the state Legislature.
State Rep. Mark M. Gillen, a Mohton Republican, will read a resolution commemorating the service of DeLucia, Koenig and all those who served that day.
DeLucia had to alter his birth certificate to join the Army Air Corps right after graduating from Reading High School in 1939, since he was just 17.
"I had no idea what was coming," he said.
He was the top turret gunner on a B-17 Flying Fortress based at Pearl Harbor's Hickam Field when the attack occurred.
He ran out of his barracks in his underwear and in the chaos found his brother, Angelo, also a member of the 26th Bomb Group.
Under heavy fire, they and other servicemen rolled a B-18 bomber out of a hangar moments after the building was hit by a bomb, saving the aircraft.
DeLucia lay on the tarmac to avoid being shot, and he remembered one Japanese plane flying so close above him he could clearly see the pilot.
"It seemed like he was aiming for me," DeLucia said.
DeLucia's daughter, Sherry Keene of Barto, said she is awed by the courage of her father and his fellow World War II veterans.
"He saw so many of his friends killed," she said.
She can't imagine how her father could be in such horrible settings and still do what needed to be done.
"I'm so proud of him," she said.