Pete Smith photographed with his WWII medals in downtown Waterloo, Iowa Thursday, Nov. 8, 2012. (TIFFANY RUSHING / Courier Staff Photographer)

EVANSDALE, Iowa --- Eugene "Pete" Smith buried a secret for two months.

He never even told members of his own family.

When Veterans Day week rolled around, he figured it was time.

Smith, 88, is a U.S. Navy veteran of World War II, serving from 1942-48. He served in an amphibious group in five major Pacific Island landings in 1944-45.

He never received his service ribbons and medals, like a lot of veterans who were more interested in getting home than hoarding hunks of hardware after the war.

His grandson, Gabe Benson, applied to the U.S. government for his service ribbons, and he received those last year at a birthday celebration at the Evansdale AMVETS.

But he never received his medals. Two months ago, he received them. He told no one.

"I don't know. I guess I felt like I didn't deserve them," Smith said. "I am no hero. To me, they weren't that important. So many people, they deserved it a lot more than I did. I never would have inquired about it myself."

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But as Veterans Day approached, "I decided I had nothing to hide," he said. "Indirectly, I'm proud of them, but I'm not overwhelmed."

"I've seen too many other people" who deserved recognition more, he said, like the Marines who went ashore in the Pacific landings.

Still, he and the craft on which he served were under fire in many of those actions.

He served on LCI and LST landing craft in landing actions at Kwajalein Atoll in the Marshall Islands, Saipan, Tinian and Pelilieu, and at Bataan during the liberation of the Philippines after a three-year Japanese occupation.

"At Tinian, you wanted to 'hug the rust'" he said, a Navy expression for laying flat and taking cover from enemy fire. At Bataan, he said, a nearby ship took a hit from a Japanese kamikaze suicide plane.

Smith, born in Iowa Falls, graduated from East High School in 1942. He also served on the destroyer tender USS Cascade, battleship USS Pennsylvania and cruiser USS Atlanta.

He retired from the Illinois Central Railroad in 1986 and worked part time as a custodian at Hawkeye Community College from 1995 to 2009. He and his late wife, Mary, were wed 52 years and raised five children. He has 13 grandchildren and nine great-grandchildren.

The medals Smith recently received included the World War II Victory Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Theater medal, American Defense Medal, China Service Medal, Navy Occupation Medal and Navy Good Conduct Medal. He has yet to receive his Philippine Liberation Medal.

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