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World War II vet, 90, closer to getting Marines to fix AWOL error in war record

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Thomas Joseph Smith, Jr., seen here at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton in California at age 18, said he received the shock of a lifetime when he realized military records incorrectly indicated he went AWOL for one month during his unit’s deployment on the Marshall Islands in the early 1940s. (Courtesy: Thomas Smith, Jr.)

A 90-year-old decorated World War II veteran still fighting to correct what he says is an erroneous war record may finally be getting closer to realizing his goal.

Thomas Joseph Smith, Jr., of Glenville, N.Y., who survived some of the bloodiest battles in the Pacific, said he received the shock of a lifetime when he realized military records detailing his time with the U.S. Marine Corps incorrectly indicated he went AWOL for one month during his unit’s deployment on the Marshall Islands in the early 1940s.

“I wanted to confirm everything, to make sure everything’s accurate for my memoir, and that’s when I found all of this out,” Smith told FoxNews.com of the effort that began in 2006. “I’ve been fiddling around with this for a number of years and I’ve gotten a little upset about getting the run-around.”

"I don’t have that much animosity, but the bureaucracy and the foolishness that goes on in government I can’t understand. I don’t understand the attitude of passing the buck."

- Thomas Joseph Smith, Jr.

Smith said he recently wrote President Obama in hopes of fixing the error after unsuccessfully seeking help from a litany of federal agencies, including the Department of Veterans Affairs and the National Personnel Records Center, which initially provided Smith his records.

Now, some eight years later, officials at the St. Louis-based archive told FoxNews.com that Smith's record has been sent to U.S. Marine Corps headquarters in Quantico. Its reference transaction includes a note indicating that it was needed for a matter involving the Board for Corrections of Naval Records.

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"So it appears the USMC is working to get this matter resolved," NPRC Director Scott Levins wrote FoxNews.com. "Without having examined the record I cannot speculate on what occurred. That said, I am pleased it is getting reviewed. These are records of enduring value which are scheduled for permanent retention in the National Archives of the United States. We owe it to our veterans to get it right."

Smith, who retired in 1988 after more than four decades as an educator, didn’t renew the effort to get his records fixed until 2012. At the time, Smith was caring for his wife, Connie, who died in 2013, and didn't focus on the issue of his military service until some fellow WWII veterans he met once a month at a café in Albany County insisted that he set his record straight.

“They got a little indignant about it,” he said. “They wanted to see me get it fixed.”

But Smith — a double Purple Heart recipient for wounds he suffered to his arm, leg and back — claims he’s gotten nothing but the “run-around” since then and has not received a reply from the Obama administration since he wrote about two weeks ago. Smith says he's not angry, however; he just wants answers.

“In that pile, with stamps next to my serial number, it says ‘Thomas Jefferson Smith, Jr.,” Smith said. “Any 10-year-old kid could look at that and say 'Hey, these are different guys here.’”

Smith is also concerned that his military record, which contains personal medical information, is seemingly insecure.

“I don’t have that much animosity, but the bureaucracy and the foolishness that goes on in government I can’t understand,” Smith told FoxNews.com. “I don’t understand the attitude of passing the buck.”

Smith said officials from the Department of Veterans Affairs, the Board for Correction of Naval Records, and the Marine Corps have heard his concerns and referred him elsewhere, ultimately back to the National Personnel Records Center, where his records quest initially began.

“The Department of Veterans Affairs is deeply committed to serving the nation’s veterans and providing the benefits they have earned and deserve,” VA officials said in a statement to FoxNews.com on Monday. “However, the VA cannot correct a service member’s active duty military record, as that falls to the individual service branch.”

A Marine Corps spokeswoman told FoxNews.com she was looking into Smith’s record early Monday. No additional information was immediately available.

Smith, meanwhile, said he compiled more than 100 pages of text and roughly 30 pieces of war memorabilia for his forthcoming memoirs, which also will be recorded in audio format. Up until about four months ago, the Battle of Iwo Jima survivor was in near-perfect health. But he took a nasty spill one morning, shattering his right hip in the process.

“Other than that, I’m OK,” he told FoxNews.com. “But this, this is has been a run-around. That’s what it is.”

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