Part I: Great Pop-Pop Gets His Medal


The following true story was wonderfully written by Marine G. Johnson. Since I don't believe it is available online, I am publishing a slightly shortend version--divided into two posts.

The story begins:

[a true story dedicated to my great wife]

In 1986, one week after the birth of our first born child, a special ceremony took place on the grounds of the Marine Corps Base at Quantico, Virginia. This was a unique ceremony, but not un-similar to others, I'm sure, that have occurred before--and since. This particular ceremony the Marine Corps conducted was in honor of an enlisted U.S. Army soldier who had performed honorable service to his country during World War I.

Now this individual wasn't a great war hero of any sorts in the military sense. He saw combat and did his duty to the best of his ability. He bravely fought America's fight, before returning home to become a chemist with the DuPont Company for the majority of his life. He was just one of many citizen soldiers who answered his country's call to arms in "The war to end all wars" -- The Great War.

Now a little more background on this is probably in order. During 1986 I was completing a tour as an instructor at the Marine Corps' Amphibious Warfare School at Quantico. I had been married a year and we had just welcomed the arrival of our first child. My wife's grandfather, Albert D. Reidinger, had served in the U.S. Army as a private during World War I. He had fought with the 78th Division (The Fighting Demons) as part of the American Expeditionary Force (AEF). He saw action at St. Mihiel, Meuse-Argonne, and the Defensive Sector.

'Great Pop-Pop', as he was called within the family, did not return to the states with his unit when the war ended. A Princeton man, he was given an opportunity to stay behind for a few months to take some academic courses at a prominent university in Paris.

[Fast forward to 1985....]

One weekend, while visiting Great Pop-Pop at his home in Wilmington, Delaware, I was helping sort through some of his belongings. Great Pop-Pop, a widow, and now 89, was beginning to get a little forgetful. It was time to move him into a place where he could get better attention and care. My duty assignment that weekend was to take care of the attic. There were a lot of old newspapers lying around that I began gathering and stuffing into plastic trash bags.

After working intently for several minutes I was about to throw another piece of paper into the bag. But there was something about it that caught my attention. I stopped and unfolded it. It was a military map of the Argonne dated 1918 with a penciled FEBA (forward edge battle area) line annotated, along with observation points and other position information.

The 68-year old map looked practically new despite the fact it had been laying exposed to the elements in a humid attic for at least 58 years. Also, among the clutter in the attic, was Great Pop-Pop's World War I 'Dough Boy' helmet, and a German bayonet he had secured as a souvenir -- items which remain two of my most prized possessions today.

Coming down from the attic, I began quizzing Great Pop-Pop on his military service. Fortunately, Great Pop-Pop's long-term memory was still good. In fact, it was great. He recalled in great detail events of a war long ago. (Combat seems to leave an indelible imprint in the minds of those who have experienced it.) Great Pop-Pop showed me his dog tags and some medals the state of New Jersey and his hometown of Morris Plains had conferred on him when he did eventually return from France.

When asked where his U.S. World War I Victory Medal was, he stated that he had never received one. Since he did not come back with his division, I guess the processing of his medal fell through the proverbial crack.

A few days after returning home from the Delaware visit, I set to work contacting the U.S. Army about getting Great Pop-Pop his medal. Within about three weeks, the medal arrived. We were close to the delivery date of our child and knew that a Christening would take place the first Sunday in April. Great Pop-Pop would be coming down for that. And that, I thought, would be a good time to give him his medal! But in thinking it over, it came to mind that perhaps a little more pomp and circumstance would be in order. After all, a veteran of World War I who has waited more than 67 years for it should be entitled to have someone certainly more distinguished than myself present it!

Now during the course of my instructor tour at Quantico, the Commanding General, Lieutenant General David Twomey, had taken an interest in my dating habits. He was noted for that, according to friends of mine who had previously served under any number of his various commands. In the course of wooing my future wife, I'd take her to the numerous receptions, presentations, and other social get-togethers that come with the territory.

Considering the numerous events we attended, it was only a matter of time before the general got to know Madeline well. And before too long, my boss, Colonel J.J. Carroll, would call me into his office periodically and tell me the general had told him to tell me to "...not let that girl get away!" Of course, being the dutiful officer I was, I soon complied...

For Part II: Great Pop-Pop Gets His Medal, go here.

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