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Korean War veteran presents hospital with his National Defense medal for responding ‘beyond the call of duty’

National Defense Service Medal (Air Force/Released)

Thomas Lombardo, a Korean War Veteran, spent time in fox holes and put himself directly in harm’s way in Korea as a member of the 7th Calvary in the United States Army.

The 90-year-old Great Kills resident modestly says he doesn’t deserve the National Defense medal he received decades ago — but that the healthcare workers who are putting themselves in the trenches for the COVID-19 pandemic do.

Lombardo took his medal, wrote up a dedication and created a plaque, which he presented to Staten Island University Hospital staff in Ocean Breeze.

“I made up my mind that I had to do something to bring [the workers] to light,” Lombardo said. “The ‘thank you’ signs and the clapping and honking will be over. This plaque will last forever.”

The letter said: “It takes a very extraordinary breed of people who can be so selfless. To run and face this pandemic head on rather than retreating. To give yourselves, offering comfort, love, and care to those in need.

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“You doctors, nurses, and staff are the true heroes in this battle and deserve this medal from the Korean War for duty beyond the call of duty. This medal symbolizes those who served during a declared national emergency and that is exactly what you were asked to do,” it went on to say.

The medal he chose is appropriate, Lombardo said, because the healthcare workers are our defense.

“They deserve that medal – not me,” he told the Advance/SILive.com. “They deserve statues and monuments the same way veterans do. They are fighting for us and putting everybody who comes into the hospital before them and before their families.”

SIUH’s Executive Director Dr. Brahim Ardolic said the hospital was left speechless by Lombardo’s recognition.

“We’re still at a loss of words over Mr. Lombardo’s gift, and his service to our country. To be recognized by someone who was literally on the frontlines in the Korean War, which was long referred to as The Forgotten War, is an honor to all healthcare workers in the fight against this invisible enemy,” Ardolic said.

“Our country’s healthcare provider’s dedication to protect our nation, like the veterans of that war, should never be forgotten and always celebrated. To be recognized by veterans and our servicemen and women is truly humbling, and we thank them for the sacrifices they make every day,” he said.

The most frustrating thing, the war veteran said, is he feels people aren’t taking the COVID-19 pandemic seriously. He said he’s “disgusted” with the people who think the virus is a joke.

“In Korea, people would get killed and it would be over. The virus just snowballs and feeds itself and it will never end if people don’t listen,” said Lombardo.

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© 2020 Staten Island Advance