I was very young the first time I asked my Dad about his military service. “Were you in the military daddy?” and he replied “Yep” and then I asked the words that have bothered me for years. “ So where is your medal?” Looking back I can remember the sadness in his eyes but at 8 years old I just needed an answer. My Dad replied “Not everyone gets a medal” Well, that was that…….and it would be decades before the subject was revisited.
When my oldest daughter started checking into our family history last year it opened up many interesting avenues into our ancestors. It also made us revisit our past. I learned more than I needed to about some relatives and not enough about others. I was able to look at the census reports and track the dynamics of my Dad’s family . When my grandfather packed up and left his young family…..it was my Dad who stepped up to fill his shoes. At the age of 17 years old, he joined the United States Army. Too young to legally enlist, his Mother had to sign the documents allowing him join the military service. So on Sept. 4, 1946, 17 year old Private 1st Class James O. Middleton joined his “Uncle Sam” at Fort Sheridon to begin active duty.
After serving his country my Dad was honorably discharged and began his civilian life. He did inquire once about his medal but was told that there was a shortage of medals, as well as metal. During World War II there were shortages in a lot of areas. So the medal was forgotten and he moved on.
My Dad was married, had two children, three grandchildren and five great-grandchildren and retired from the Civil Service at Tyndall Air Force Base. ….the years and decades passed. He is a proud veteran but never talked about his military days until the day that he told my daughter Stephanie that he was owed a medal from the United States Army.
When my daughter brought it to my attention I simply told her “No, he is not owed a medal because I asked him one day about it.” But she just kept saying ask him…..so that’s what I did. We were right back to where we started when I was eight years old.
“Dad, what’s this about the Army owing you a medal?” He explained that he was supposed to get one but when he was discharged there was a shortage. He never tried again.
“Do you want me to check on it Dad?” That was my first question and the second one was “Why didn’t you tell me before now?” He didn’t really have an answer for either questions…..but he said he sure would like to see his medal. And so began my journey with the Army. I learned very quickly that the US Army likes duplicates of everything. Sometimes I had to fill out the same paperwork three times but I pushed on…… only to find out that my Dad’s military records were destroyed in a fire in 1973.
Luckily he still had all of his original paperwork and we were able to piece together his military service record. So last year the United States Army sent me a letter stating that they would indeed be awarding my Dad the World War II Victory Medal and the Honorable Service Lapel button World War II. But at that moment there was a……..you guessed it…..shortage.
It would take eight months before the medal arrived at my house and I will admit that I had to wipe the tears away as I held it in my hands for the first time. After 64 years the United States Army had awarded my Dad his World War II medal. Then I was faced with the dilemma of what to do with it. I didn’t want to just drive down to his house and say “Here it is”.
I wanted a parade! Yep, I wanted a parade for my Dad, with flags and noise and Veterans and singing and food. It sounds crazy now as I write this all down but I just thought he deserved something special. After getting in touch with a couple of Veterans I ended up speaking to Jim Moore (one of my “crazy” classmates from high school and I say that with love).
Jim is involved with a group called Warrior’s Watch Riders. All I really knew about them is that they ride motorcycles and honor Veterans by providing “Welcome Home” parades as well as “Standing Guard” during funeral services. So I checked them out on the internet and was so pleased with what I found. Here is an excerpt from their mission statement: “The Warrior’s Watch Riders envision a day when every member of the United States Armed Forces, at home & abroad and their families feel appreciated, honored, respected and loved by the citizens they risk their lives to protect…”
I also learned that these people are all volunteers and do NOT accept donations. They do NOT charge for their services because it is their belief that “Your servicemen and service women have already paid the price”
With my Dad’s medal now in hand, Jim and I set up to surprise him on his 84th birthday. On Saturday, Jan. 12, 2013, with his family all gathered around his house, my dad looked out the window because he could hear rumbling coming from across the canal and on U.S. Highway 98.
“Sounds like motorcycles” his great- granddaughter Kenzie Barber stated. Other family members replied that “something” was going on. My Dad walked out into the driveway just as the Mexico Beach Police car’s siren let out a blast. He looked down the road and what he saw was 45 motorcycles, a blue stars & stripes lead car, two police cars, several parade cars and……….countless American and P.O.W. flags blowing in the wind. The showpiece in the group was a 1942 Harley Davidson motorcycle, also a veteran from World War II.
Finally my Dad was getting his parade. I could see the confusion in his eyes so I leaned over to him and said “Dad, you remember that World War II medal that the Army owes you? Well, these men are bringing it to you!” I was close enough to see the surprise……the shock and a glimpse of a 17 year old boy who had joined a “Man’s Army” 64 years ago. It is a memory that I will carry with me always.
As the rumbling of the motorcycles died down, Wounded Warrior (and Purple Heart recipient) Cpl. Jeremy Matt Cabaniss (Ret.) stepped forward to present Private First Class James O. Middleton with his long-awaited World War II Victory medal and Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII. Other Veterans and members of the NWF Warrior’s watch Riders stepped up to present him with a World War II hat, WWR certificate and booklet and two medallions.
As the Veteran’s saluted PVT Middleton, he snapped to attention and saluted them back. If that were not enough to bring tears to your eyes……then Mary Lou Cumbie led the entire group singing “God Bless America” and had every one wiping their eyes. Red and blue balloons were tossed in the air and Happy Birthday was the final song of the day. When asked to make a speech my Dad stated “That it was just too much for words” and he made his way into the crowd to thank everyone personally. After the crowd filled up on Paul Gant BBQ they were treated to one of Mary Lou’s finest homemade chocolate cakes.
As the crowd started to disperse and the rumbling of motorcycles was a sound in the distance……I saw my grandchildren playing with balloons, flags and garland and I looked down at the silver chain around my neck that holds the dog tag of James O Middleton- Regular Army 1946. My granddaughter hugged me and said “Best Day EVER Nana.”
And I smiled and had to agree with her….Best Day EVER!
Thank you to the United States Army, NWF Warrior’s Watch Riders (and other riders), Semper Fi Sisters, CVMA, The Wounded Warriors and the City of Mexico Beach for helping my entire family make a forever memory. For more information on the Warrior’s Watch Riders WWW.warriorswatch.org.