(CNN)Staff Sgt. Edmund "Eddie" Sternot of the 101st Airborne Division rushed his machine gunners to move in front of a surprise German breakthrough in January 1945, according to the US Army.
A World War II veteran finally gets a Silver Star, decades after dying in the Battle of the Bulge
Sternot's isolated men held their icy ground in the Belgian forest during the Battle of the Bulge, despite the fierce German attack that included tank rounds.
Military documents show 60 German gunners lay dead in front of Sternot's machine gun station.
Sternot received a Silver Star for his heroism, but the award never got pinned to his chest and no family member every received the five-pointed medal.
On Sunday, with pomp and circumstance, one of Sternot's last living relatives will receive the Silver Star at a Veterans Day Ceremony in Santa Barbara at the Pierre Claeyssens Veterans Foundation.
"Sternot's men beat back the Germans and he led his unit with calm and valor under fire," said Major Vonnie Wright of the 101st Airborne Division.
Wright said Sternot died just days after his gallantry, during yet another German counterattack, when he was hit by a tank round.
The medal will be given to 80-year-old Delores Sternot, the hero's first cousin, of Goleta, California.
"I'm stunned," Delores said. "He is truly an American hero, along with so many other World War heroes killed. We are so proud of him. But why did it take so long?"
Somehow after Sternot was killed and buried at the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Hombourg, Belgium, the Silver Star never got officially awarded.
Family members received his Purple Heart but no Silver Star.
The plan to hand the Silver Star over to Delores Sternot might never have been if not for an encounter in a chapel in Foy, Belgium, in 2001.
Retired Army Lt. Col. Bill Linn says he was attending mass after visiting the Bastogne battlefield when a woman handed over something her woodcutter father had come upon in the nearby forest.
"She told me her father found a small prayer book," Linn said. "Inside was the name and home address of Edmund J. Sternot."
Linn eventually found and contacted members of the Sternot family in Wisconsin.
The collector said family members recalled all the Sternot boys received first communion prayer books, including Eddie seen holding one in a picture.
Linn's search for Sternot's relatives eventually led to Delores, Eddie Sternot's self-described "little" cousin.
She vividly remembers a visit when she was five years old living on the family farm in Vesper, Wisconsin.
"Eddie came in from furlough through the front door and I was excited," Delores said. "He picked me up and threw me in the air and caught me."
But those memory-making times with Eddie ended in the dying embers of World War II.
The Army reports as the Battle of the Bulge wound down, Sgt. Sternot was killed when an advancing German tank round hit him.
Sternot had stepped into the open and pulled the pin, ready to throw a hand grenade.
"So we heard there were two explosions hitting Eddie, a double whammy," said Delores. "So at least he didn't suffer, he was killed instantly."