A wall in the basement of Gerald Shaner's Westerville residence is covered with medals and plaques he earned during a military career that took him to World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

That wall just got a little more crowded.

On June 7, 95-year-old Shaner, who goes by "Jerry," was presented with certificates of appreciation from Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and the city of Westerville for his service to the United States. The Westerville police were there, as was U.S. Rep. Steve Stivers (R-Upper Arlington), who is also a brigadier general in the Ohio National Guard.

"I've never in my life expected anything like this," said Shaner, who left the U.S. Army as a command sergeant major, one of the highest ranks an enlisted member can achieve. "It felt good to get recognized for my service."

The presentation started with DeWine's military and veterans liaison, Tammy Puff, thanking Shaner for his service and presenting him with a certificate of appreciation. Westerville Vice Mayor Kathy Cocuzzi also presented Shaner with a certificate.

Shaner has lived in Westerville since 1970 with his wife, Freda, 92.

After the presentations, Shaner regaled his guests with war stories, capturing the attention of the room every time he spoke. Shaner joked he had been told only two people would be there for the presentations. Instead, his basement was filled with close to 20 veterans, police officers and family members.

In 1940, Shaner visited a National Guard recruiting station with a friend. An officer asked why he wasn't enlisting. Shaner replied that he was only 16.

"You look 18 to me," the sergeant replied. "Come in and join the National Guard."

With that, Shaner's military career began.

After serving with the Army in the Pacific Theater of World War II, Shaner came home and met Freda in 1947. They'll celebrate their 71st wedding anniversary later this month.

Shaner said the event June 7 represented a complete tonal shift from the way Vietnam veterans were treated in the past.

"We as a country finally got together and started realizing what veterans went through," Shaner said. "It's amazing how they feel now compared to Vietnam. I think what happened is that after Desert Storm, people started buying meals and recognizing veterans."

Freda Shaner said she sees that recognition daily.

"Every place we go now, we have someone who comes up and thanks him for his service," she said.

Shaner earned the Silver Star in 1944 when he took out a Japanese bunker on the New Guinea island of Bougainville in the battle for Hill 700.

In addition, he earned two Bronze Stars, a Meritorious Service Medal, four Army Commendations and a Presidential Unit Award during his combat tours in the three wars.

"I never looked back," Shaner said of his service. "What I did, I did for the company and for the battalion. I have no regrets."

hpalattella@dispatch.com

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