- Associated Press - Saturday, July 19, 2014

SITKA, Alaska (AP) - After a delay of more than six decades, Mike Perensovich has received the prestigious Air Medal for the some 200 missions he flew as a flight engineer in the Berlin Airlift.

To say he’s been patient would be an understatement.

“I waited for a while, but then I forgot about it,” said the longtime Sitkan. “It wasn’t until later years, and a friend said if I didn’t press it, they would.”

Joe Meador, a longtime friend of Perensovich’s, presented him with the medal at Corrigan Hall of St. Gregory’s Catholic Church in a ceremony attended by the Air Force veteran’s friends and family.

Meador, flotilla commander for Coast Guard Auxiliary Sitka, had successfully worked through the channels with his friend David Levesque to procure the medal after other attempts failed.

The Air Medal was established in 1942 and is given to military service members who distinguish themselves “by meritorious achievement while participating in aerial flight.”

Perensovich, now 87, was originally scheduled to be honored for his airlift service in 1949, but a number of circumstances caused the 65-year delay.

Meador said Monday he was honored to present the medal to Perensovich for his work in the famous airlift, in which the United States and its western allies flew essential food, fuel and supplies to the population of West Berlin after the Soviet Union cut off road, rail and canal access to the city. The round-the-clock transport flights ran from June 1948 to September 1949.

“He was due his medal from way back,” said Meador, who donned his uniform as Coast Guard Auxiliary flotilla commander to present the medal. “Knowing what it meant … It was an honor.”

The son of an immigrant coal miner, Perensovich joined the Army Air Corps - the predecessor to the U.S. Air Force - in February 1945 at the age of 18, and was initially a flight mechanic stationed at Rhein-Main Air Base in Frankfurt, Germany.

“I didn’t even finish high school,” he said. “All my friends had gone. The country was extremely patriotic. … Everyone had relatives in the service.” His older brother, Nick, was in the Army as a member of the 88th Infantry Division, known as the Fighting Blue Devils.

Mike was initially a mechanic but during the airlift he became a flight engineer on a Douglas C-54 Skymaster, operating flaps and landing gear, keeping an eye on instruments and in general “helping the pilot out” while the planes flew a 20-mile-wide air corridor through the Russian zone to West Berlin from the U.S. base in West Germany.

Perensovich estimated he flew between two and five flights a day as a member of the 15th Troop Carrier Squadron in the 61st Troop Carrier Group, with a total of over 200 missions.

He said the flights were not particularly exciting but, he added, “every once in a while a Russian plane would pass by.” His squadron also flew 24 hours straight on two occasions. His tour was up after 42 months, and he was the flight engineer on the plane that brought him back to the U.S.

It was a strange set of circumstances that led to the delay in the award of the medal, Perensovich said in a recent interview at his home.

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