Bob Madden was not one to leave things unfinished, even if it took decades.
As a young Navy boatswain in World War II, he risked his life to pluck fellow sailors from the flames of a crashed plane. Fifty-four years later, he was awarded a medal for his bravery.
Mr. Madden died Monday night at Kindred Hospital in Fort Lauderdale of lung disease. He was 85.
Mr. Madden quit high school to join the Navy, and 51 years later earned his diploma at age 67. He was valedictorian.
"He was really proud of that," said his wife, Ruby Litinsky Madden.
The operator of a landing craft, Mr. Madden and two others were on patrol in 1945 when they spotted a Navy seaplane broken and burning on a reef off Mindoro, an island in the Philippines.
According to the citation Mr. Madden later received: "He entered the burning plane repeatedly and assisted in rescuing all the survivors. By his prompt and courageous actions in the face of great personal risk … he prevented further loss of life, upholding the highest traditions of the U.S. Naval Service."
Ruby Madden said it took years to declassify the incident, and Mr. Madden finally received the Navy and Marine Corps Medal in 1999.
Mr. Madden left the Navy in 1946 and worked as a police officer in Dobbs Ferry, N.Y., until retiring in 1970. In 1972 he moved to Broward County and four years later married Ruby, who worked as a reporter at the Fort Lauderdale News until 1985.
The pair traveled the world to "oddball places," Ruby Madden said.
Besides his wife, Mr. Madden is survived by a daughter, Annette Madden-Shatley of Forney, Texas, five granddaughters and nine great-grandchildren. A memorial service will be from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at Jennings Funeral Home, 1801 E. Oakland Park Blvd. He will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery in Washington, D.C.