For years, Dan Welch wondered whatever came of his father’s old medals from World War II.
After his dad, Woodrow “Woody” Welch died in 1986, his mother found his old jacket at their home in Smithfield, a small village in Fulton County about an hour southwest of Peoria. The wool coat had been aggressively attacked by moths and, well, it was tossed into the trash. On that jacket was his father’s coveted Combat Infantryman’s Badge, which can only be earned by soldiers who were involved in direct combat.
“Dad really took pride in that medal,” his son said recently. “It was the only one he would keep on his uniform other than the unit patches.
So when it was thrown out, Dan Welch thought over the years how to get the medal back. He didn’t want to just buy it through an Army surplus store. But he couldn’t find his dad’s old military records such as his discharge papers or even his Social Security number. Then serendipity struck.
“It was looking for other papers when I opened the buffet drawer. I found what I was looking for and then, saw more papers. I thought, ‘I’ll see what’s in there,’ and there it was, Dad’s DD-214, in a thin brown envelope,” he said.
Armed with that and a tax return that had his father’s Social Security number, he contacted U.S. Sen. Tammy Duckworth’s office. The staff from the Illinois Democrat and veteran of a Peoria-based Illinois Army National Guard helicopter unit, investigated. And within two weeks, Dan Welch had a letter.
“The turnaround was amazing. I can’t say enough about Tammy. She and her office did great,” Welch said, adding the Combat Infantryman’s Badge wasn’t on his father’s DD-214 and a fire in the early 1970s in St. Louis-based records center made it hard without help to reconstruct his father’s career.
But he didn’t just get the CIB back. He also learned his father had earned other medals, including a Bronze Star, which was given to GIs who performed with exemplary conduct in combat. His father was also entitled to claim the Army of Occupation medal and a Meritorious Unit Commendation. An official in Duckwoth’s office said a date for a formal presentation of the medals to Dan Welch has not been set. It’s likely, however, to occur sometime within the next few weeks, Welch said.
The entire affair has really inspired Welch, who didn’t serve in the military. He’s enjoyed looking back at his father’s old photo album, filled with pictures of wartime buddies. And he’s even tried to track down a man who was likely in the same pillbox on Feb. 28, 1945, when Woody Welch earned his Bronze Star. Sadly, that man had already passed away.
“They were a liberating division of a concentration camp,” his son said. “It’s been quite an experience. I have always enjoyed history.”
But he has a lengthened appreciation of what soldiers of all eras went through and will continue to. In fact, it was a memorial service for a man who had recently died that made him work harder to find a way to honor his father.
“I just wanted to honor dad and make things right with his DD-214. They got that all straightened out, and Tammy’s office did a great job on it,” he said.
Andy Kravetz can be reached at 686-3283 or [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter @andykravetz.
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