BRADENTON, Fla. – Florida's only living World War I veteran got a long-delayed medal Friday as he smiled at the hubbub and recalled his service on a battleship nearly 90 years ago.
Ernest Charles Pusey, 111, wasn't feeling too talkative but seemed to enjoy the attention as Gov. Jeb Bush awarded him a World War I Victory Medal at a gathering in the retired General Motors worker's trailer on the day before Veterans Day.
"It looks pretty good, doesn't it?" Bush said, placing the glass-encased medal on the table next to Pusey's recliner.
Pusey was in the U.S. Navy from 1917 to 1919 aboard the battleship USS Wyoming, which spent much of the war patrolling the sea lanes around the British Isles.
He told Bush he doesn't feel too good some days and has trouble getting around. But he remembers his time on that battleship, especially "stopping at different cities out there."
A black-and-white photo of the ship hangs on the wall in his living room near a framed letter of congratulations from President Bush, the governor's brother, that Pusey received this year.
According to the federal Department of Veterans Affairs Web site, there are fewer than 25 living U.S. veterans of World War I out of nearly 5 million who served worldwide.
Last year, there were four World War I veterans in Florida, but two have died and one moved to Alabama, said Rocky McPherson, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans' Affairs.
Bush said Pusey didn't recall getting a victory medal after the war and nobody could find any evidence that he had. So giving it to him for Veterans Day seemed fitting. McPherson tracked one down in a shop in Quantico, Va.
Pusey worked at GM in Flint, Mich., for more than 30 years and moved to Florida in 1960. He has tried nursing homes a few times, but prefers living in his trailer with the help of a caretaker who also takes him to church and out for scallop dinner on Sundays.
"The most amazing thing about Ernie is when I see him come home from church, get out of the car and walk in the house by himself," said Jim Johns, who lives across the street. "It tells you something about his soul. The man just glows."