Thursday, October 30, 2014

My grandpa's "lost" WWII service medals

My paternal grandfather Morris "Jerry" Korstange passed away 12/20/2013 at the Grand Rapids Home for Veterans.  When I started blogging I was going to start with him but decided it was too fresh.  There is so much I could write but I thought I'd start with  the story of his "lost" medals.

Jerry enlisted in the Navy 1/18/1944 at Grand Rapids MI, just 2 months and 23 days after turning 17.  I don't know what drove him to enlist but he came from a broken home and I personally believe he just wanted to leave.  He did drop out of high school to enlist yet went on to retire as the head building inspector for the city of Wyoming MI so I'd say he did pretty good for himself! 

US Navy Training School, Great Lakes IL 1/1944
He served on the LST-1022 (Landing Ship Tank).  Their job was to ferry supplies (tanks, Jeeps, ammunition etc) and they also participated in the battles (the big deck guns are clearly visible).
Photo taken by M. Jerry Korstange

Photo taken by M. Jerry Korstange

My story for today stems from his attempt to show me his war medals.  He really didn't talk much about his service time but had given me a few items.  One day we got to talking about his medals after I was looking at his discharge papers and noticed them listed.  He had me come upstairs with him to show them to me.  He opened the cedar chest and they were gone.  I won't get into where they went, only will say we all know what happened to them (same thing that happened to his Navy ring amongst other valuables). 

A couple of years passed and I stumbled on a message board post by someone inquiring about replacing lost medals.  I went to the website, printed and filled out the necessary paperwork and made the necessary copies, but got a return letter stating I needed him to sign for them (what do they do when the veteran has passed away and a descendant wants to get the medals)?  I resubmitted everything and was confident he'd be getting his medals by Christmas 2004.  Christmas came and went, then spring and even summer and nothing.  I made some phone calls and ended up speaking to a horribly nasty woman who rather curtly told me that my grandpa was one of thousands asking for replacement medals, that they were on back order and it would be another 6 months to a year.  I explained to her that his health wasn't good and I wasn't sure he'd live long enough to see them (thankfully he lived another 10 years).  She made it clear to me that wasn't her concern.

I was discussing this situation with a coworker one day and they mentioned that they knew someone that worked in Senator Carl Levin's office and that he had a liaison who's job it was to deal with veteran's affairs.  I figured it couldn't hurt so I called his office.  I was greeted very pleasantly and given clear instructions on what I needed to do to get their help.  I mailed them the necessary documentation and within 3 weeks the medals arrived!

My grandpa was thrilled to see them.  He got them made up into a shadowbox complete with the above picture of his ship.  He made sure to attach the envelope the medals were in to the back of the box and include that he wanted me to get it.  (I wrote his name and room number on it when he was at the Veteran's Facility as my grandma and I hung it in his room during his short stay there).

 It's hard to get a good photo of the shadow box but here's a picture of what the board looks like:
This will someday be mine but for now I'm happy to let it hang in the spare bedroom at my grandma's house, above the flag case with the flag presented at his funeral and a framed photo of the picture above, the 17 year old who went off to war.