ROCHESTER — After surviving kamikaze pilots and cancer, a World War II veteran was especially proud to be able to wear his medals at long last.
On Friday, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter (D-NH) presented Thomas Nugent, 93, of Dover, with the medals and honors he never received following his discharge from the U.S. Navy 67 years ago.
He received the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, a discharge button and an honorable service lapel button — which is also known as the "ruptured duck."
Shea-Porter said this is one of the best parts of her job.
"I had the privilege to present them, but the whole country thanks you," Shea-Porter said, adding she credited Nugent for his service and his patience.
"This is such a joy," Shea-Porter said, adding her father also served in the Navy during World War II.
Nugent said he enlisted in Cheyenne, Wyo., at the age of 18.
"I was working in a gambling house as a dice table dealer when the war broke out," Nugent said. "That was in '42 – right after Pearl (Harbor)."
As a partial denture prohibited him from joining the Army Air Corps — which became the U.S. Air Force after the war — Nugent said he was accepted into the U.S. Navy.
Since he served as a cook with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) during the Great Depression, Nugent said he was assigned as a baker aboard a minesweeper — the USS Bombard 151 — and a destroyer escort — the USS Spangler 696 — in both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans.
"I had good duty," Nugent said, recalling how he learned to made brownies, met Russian sailors and had trouble kneading dough while the ship was rocking across the heavy waves off the Aleutian Islands in Alaska.
Nugent said he preferred his time on the minesweeper since the smaller crew allowed him to be more creative and make more cakes for the sailors in the galley.
"I don't regret my time I spent in the Navy," Nugent said, adding he was lucky enough to survive the threat of Japanese kamikaze pilots and the fact "Toyoko Rose" was broadcasting propaganda that ships had been sunk.
At the end of the war, Nugent, who was a Petty Officer 1st Class, said he was offered an opportunity to stay in the service and become a Chief Petty Officer. Nugent said he chose to leave the service.
After the war, Nugent said he wanted to continue baking, but his uncle, who ran a shoe business in Jamaica Plain, Mass., convinced him to use the G.I. Bill of Rights to learn to design and patent shoes.
Nugent said he worked in Boston, Mass., and at H.O. Rondeau Shoe Co. in Farmington. At the age of 64, he retired as a vice president of Melville Corp.
After remembering fallen comrades during Memorial Day last week, Nugent said he was touched to receive his medals after so many years.
Nugent's wife, Laurea, said the experience was very important to him. She added about three years ago he was diagnosed with cancer, but he continues to recover from the successful treatment process.
She said he remains active and still bakes cookies and pies — especially with apples.
"He still thinks he's in the galley," Laurea said, adding flour is tossed around the kitchen as if he was at sea.