Wednesday, April 2, 2008

"Quest For The Medal"

Before I begin this segment of my blog, I would like to take a moment to acknowledge four of my dad's buddies that I have found and stayed in touch with in my search for answers regarding dad's Army days. The first veteran I was introduced to was Sam Kornfeld, originally from NY and now resides in Florida. I refer to Sam as my 'adopted dad'. He is an absolutely remarkable person, caring, genuine, a true veteran, and such an incredibly important part of my life now. I treasure our friendship each and ever day. The next veteran I found along the way was Fritz Weinshenk. His story is quite unique and sad at the same time. Being of the Jewish Faith, he lost part of his family to the Germans who took it upon themselves to extinguish members of his immediate family as if they never existed. As a young boy, he moved to the United States, went to school, joined the Army, (293 JASCO), made it through D-Day and so on, went back to New York and attended City College, now known as Columbia University, where he earned his Law Degree, then went back to France as a Lawyer and took part in the Nuremberg Trials. An incredible individual, he led me to Walter Newman, also originally from New York, now in Kansas and Arnold Epstein, whom I believe still resides in New York. Without the help of these four Veterans, who are an important part of the 'Greatest Generation', I never would have been able to trace my dad's footsteps on Omaha Beach or The Pacific Theater. I thank the four of them with every fiber of my being, not only for the information and leads they have provided me but for their dedication and service to our country. Thank you to all of you~

Now~ 'Quest For The Medal' ~ After the fiasco aboard the JFK Air Craft Carrier in July of 2000, I asked my dad why they never received their medals from the French government. He really wasn't sure, but he thought it was because the 293rd JASCO was divided up into 10 to 12 men, detached from their JASCO Unit and re-attached to a larger unit, his being the 149th Engineer Combat Battalion .. in other words they "fell through the cracks" and were forgotten about. As I was preparing to leave my small town of No. Reading, MA. to return to No. Virginia, I told my dad that I was going to do what I could to first find an answer as to why they never received a medal and second do whatever it took to get him one. After all, he did 'earn it'!

Living just outside of Washington, DC does have some advantages .. the French Embassy for one! After making an appointment to talk to a member of their Veteran Affairs department, I was told that these D-Day Veterans were indeed offered a commemorative medal for the 60th anniversary in FRANCE! Stunned, I mentioned the fact that not very many of these veterans were able to travel back to France for this ceremony either for financial reasons, health reasons or, as in my dad's case, 'he had already been there...he couldn't go back again'. There were a lot of psychological reason for many as to why they could not return to Normandy, France. The cost they had paid 60 years ago had just been too much to endure and seeing the American side of the cemetery in Normandy was a traumatic reminder of how much was lost that day. After my first attempt of 3 hours or so, I was told to contact the French Consulate in Boston, MA. since that's where my father was from .. "Maybe they can be of assistance to you" I was told. Not being discouraged very easily, that's exactly where I was headed next. I called, wrote and called again only to be told that there just were no more medals to be had. Nine months had passed by this time and one evening in early April of 2001, I received a call that our dad had had a 'slight' stroke. Concerned about my dad's health, my objective had just become a top priority for me. Returning to the French Embassy in DC, I decided that "no" was just not an acceptable answer for me any more. I didn't care where they found a medal as long as one was found and properly presented to my father. As his health continued to decline, more pressure was being applied to both the French Consulate in Boston as well as the Embassy in DC. Flying back and forth to spend as much time with dad as I possibly could now, we were all told in September of 2001 that he and our mom had accepted the fact that our father was approaching the end as we all had feared. I returned to VA. again with one objective in mind .. a medal for my favorite hero but September 11th had interrupted my plans as it interrupted the entire world. I was not allowed to visit the Embassy now because of the Pentagon attack, so I called, begged, pleaded with anyone that would listen to me. Finally, I was able to plead my case again in Boston with Michael DePaulo, Special Liaison to Mr. Stephane Chemelewsky, Consul General of France. He granted dad a dispensation and sent me a commemorative medal because the Jubilee Medals were no longer available. Now waiting for Logan Airport to re-open, I had a letter, a medal from France and a medal from the Philippines which he never received either in my possession and nothing could stop me from boarding another plane back to Boston. In part of the letter written to my dad, I was referred to as "relentless" and that "no is just not an option" for for my dad, but it was noted that I always spoke for the five of us kids, not just myself. Dad was complimented by the French now not only for his actions on Omaha Beach so many years ago, but for the family he and mom had raised. "It is not within my power to place the original one in your hand because I simply do not have one. It moves me deeply and with great pride to know that your children think so very much about their father and would go to the lengths that Louise did in order to make sure that you were properly honoured. And, so you shall be Monsieur Ernest Doucette!" Mr. DePaulo wrote. With my mom, sister Ann, brothers Paul, John and Michael there, we presented dad with his long overdue medals. As the letter was being read to him, tears, not only of joy streamed down his face, but also of appreciation of what had finally been accomplished for him. His face said it all .. he was ready for his journey 'home' even if we weren't.

My favorite hero has been gone for over six years now, but his spirit, his courage and his strength remains within me in my actions, how I treat others, in the things I say and do, how I choose to 'give back' to my community as my dad did and how I can help other Military families in their time of need. He is my inspiration now as I volunteer as a member of "Soldiers Angels" for our troops in Iraq and Afghanistan but I think my biggest accomplishment is what I will have taught my three children and pass on to my grand children. If I can be assessed as a good wife, a good mom, Nana, aunt and a good friend to others and have the ability to be able to 'agree to disagree' as dad always did, then I think I will do well, but that's not up to me to decide. One day I will stand before someone else with much higher authority than I'll ever have to decide how well I've done here on earth. Of course, if I get to that point one day and do pass, I know I'll have to once again stand before dad and pass his test also! Hummmm~ that just might be the toughest test to pass. Miss and love you always dad~ Whez

1 comment:

J said...

Hi Nana, though I would have Gwen meet your DAD. We read his memorial page and the photo you posted. ;) she enjoyed learning about him.

love you,
Jess and Gwen