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Veteran of many World War II campaigns finally gets medals

By Vincent Z. Whaley
Johnson City Press Staff Writer

(PUBLISHED Tuesday, Dec. 7, 1999)

Dear Sir:

I am writing to request the military medals my great-uncle earned gallantly during World War II but never received. James W. Lewis served his country honorably from Oct. 9, 1941, to Oct. 15, 1945.

When he turned 22, Lewis celebrated his birthday as a private stationed with the Army at Fort Bragg, N.C. His birthday gift came wrapped as his greated chagrin that year.

It was Dec. 7, 1941.

In a sneak attack, Japanese aircraft heavily bombed a U.S. Navy base in Hawaii known as Pearl Harbor, thus ushering in America's involvement in the Second World War.

As a member of Cannon Company, 47th Infantry Regiment, Ninth Infantry Division, Lewis had trained thoroughly for the combat, albeit nightmare, that soon followed. From French Morocco and Tunisia in Africa, Sicily, Normandy and Northern France to the Ardennes and Rhineland in Germany and war's end in Central Europe, Lewis fought in all eight campaigns in which the Ninth "Octofoil" Infantry Division participated during the war.

Lewis stepped ashore Utah Beach in Normandy on D-Day plus five, battled his way through Cherbourg and St. Lo and across the remainder of France. He crossed the Ludendorff Bridge in Remagen, Germany, in March 1945 with the 47th Raiders — one of the first complete U.S. infantry regiments to cross the Rhine River.

Lewis also fought with my late grandfather, Pfc. Starlin H. Hughes, who served in F Company of the 47th Infantry Regiment, Ninth Infantry Division. The two many times were within sight of one another on the battlefield. In 1988, you fulfilled my family's request and sent my grandfather's medals.

A famous slogan was initiated after Lewis' birthday in 1941 — "Remember Pearl Harbor." Now my family is asking our government to remember the many men and women who served this country to uphold peace, freedom and democracy.

Please accept this letter as my request to receive all medals my great-uncle is entitled to have as authorized by and recorded on his Honorable Discharge, Enlisted Record and Report of Separation documents.

Lewis' medals should include the European-African-Middle Eastern Theater of Operations Medal with one Silver Star and three Bronze Stars for the eight campaigns in which he served; Good Conduct Medal; American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal and World War II Victory Medal, both as entitled by dates of service; and the Bronze Star Medal, as entitled by the Combat Infantryman's Badge and authorized by the President of the United States of America, Executive Order, 24 August 1962.

I would like to request your prompt attention and fulfillment of this request so my family and I can present my great-uncle's medals to him while he is still living. It is thanks to him and many others that you are reading this letter today.

Should you require further information, I will provide same upon request.

Vincent Z. Whaley

— — —

Letters similar to this article were successfully sent to the National Archives and Records Administration in St. Louis, Mo., by my parents, Mollie H. and Lewis D. Whaley, to obtain my grandfather's and great-uncle's military medals the government failed to send them after the war.

On July 18, 1999, my parents presented Lewis with his long-awaited awards at his Greenmountain, N.C., home.

With an estimated backlog of 98,000 routine requests for Army medals, the length of time to receive a response or the medals and awards varies depending upon branch of service. Generally, there is no charge for this service.

Veterans interested in obtaining their World War II military medals may obtain additional information on a computer through NARA's Web site at http://www.nara.gov/regional/mprfaq.html.

Once you log into the "Frequently Asked Questions" portion of the Web site, click on the third question, "How can I get my medals or those of my family?" After linking to "Military Personnel Records — Military Medals and Awards," all branches of service and addresses are listed, as well as links to special request forms.

Requests must contain basic information to locate military service records. This information includes the veteran's complete name used while in service, service number, Social Security number, branch of service and dates of service. Date and place of birth also may be helpful if the service number is not known. Each request must be signed and dated.

NARA states family members may only request medals and awards of living veterans by obtaining their signed authorizations. For deceased veterans, requests will be accepted from next-of-kin, such as unremarried widow or widower, son or daughter, father or mother, brother or sister of the deceased veteran.

For those who do not have a computer, the Johnson City Public Library has 16 computers available with Internet access. Citizens may use the computers for one hour daily.

Army veterans or family members who have required documents may mail their requests to the National Personnel Records Center, Medals Section (NRPMA-M), 9700 Page Ave., St. Louis, Mo. 63132-5100. Addresses of other military branches are available at NARA's Web site.

Story Copyright © 1999-2004 by Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson City Press,
204 W. Main St., Johnson City, Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
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596th Signal Support Co., 97th Signal Battalion
47th Infantry Regiment, 9th Infantry Division
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