Ask anyone who knows me well and they’ll tell you that if I wouldn’t have pursued a career in journalism, I would most likely have gravitated toward the subject of history — particularly, 20th century America.
I’m absolutely fascinated by stories of the Great Depression, World War II, the 60s and 70s, and how Vietnam and the Cold War led into the Reagan Era.
Perhaps part of the reason I was so interested in history was because of my grandfather, Clarence Monke.
My grandpa, like most men from his generation, is a World War II veteran and I’ve always enjoyed the stories he’d tell about his time serving in the U.S. Army’s 33rd Armor Regiment in Europe.
He was enlisted from 1942 to 1945 and was involved in some of the European front’s major battles, including the Battle of the Bulge — remembered as one of the largest battles of the war — and fought in five major campaigns throughout Europe.
“Somebody was watching out for me,” he told me Friday. “I had a lot of close calls.”
Grandpa was honorably discharged as a technician fifth grade — referred to as a corporal — came home to run the family farm, married my grandmother Irene, and raised my father and aunt while building a good life for himself.
Donald Diederich of Watford City has a similar story. The 90-year-old Army veteran and Wahpeton native fought in the Pacific before coming back to North Dakota and building a life for himself and his family.
On March 26, 67 years after he was discharged, North Dakota Sen. John Hoeven awarded Diederich with five medals he had earned during World War II yet had never received.
Sixty-eight years after his discharge, my grandpa is one of the thousands of veterans still waiting to receive the medals they earned during the war. With an estimated 1,000 World War II veterans dying each day, I can only imagine how many men like him fought in the war, went on to live full lives and never received their medals.
Leslie Ross, the veterans service officer for Stark County, said it is a common story since medals are generally issued after wars and battles.
So, I asked her. What do I and people like me, whose grandfathers and fathers fought for our country, have to do to help them get the medals they rightfully deserve?
The easiest way, Ross said, is to contact your county’s Veteran’s Service Office immediately, especially if you’re trying to find medals and honors for a veteran from World War II or the Korean War, since there is paperwork to fill out — living veterans must sign a form requesting their official records — and as we all know, nothing happens at light speed when the words government and paperwork are in the same sentence.
You never know what you will find either.
After a quick search of my grandpa’s records, Ross was able to determine some of the honors he was eligible to receive, including five bronze service stars — a “big deal” according to Ross, who is retired from the Air Force — and numerous other medals.
Some he earned while others are commemorative and awarded to most veterans, including the World War II Victory Medal.
Now, we begin the process to get my grandpa the medals he earned and deserves.
After living the majority of his life without the medals, he isn’t as enthusiastic about getting them as I am. But I have been able to convince him that the medals aren’t necessarily only for him. They’re for our family and the generations that are yet to come so they can have physical evidence of his accomplishments.
Those medals will be a little piece of history my children and grandchildren will be able to hold in their hands, long after my grandpa is gone.
Monke is the managing editor of The Dickinson Press. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org, visit his blog at monke.areavoices.com and send him a tweet at monkebusiness.