March 14, 2014
Some 70 years after he earned them, a local World War II veteran can proudly display more than half a dozen awards earned during his service in the U.S. Army.
On Friday, 93-year-old James Garnett of Charlottesville was presented the Bronze Star and Purple Heart, among other decorations.
But why was the recognition such a long time coming? The humble Garnett didn't even know they were due.
"It was wonderful, but totally unexpected, of course," he said.
The honors were listed on his honorable discharge papers from the Army in November of 1945, but never awarded.
"My father never really knew what it meant. It was just gobbly gook," said son-in-law Fred Craft. "They gave him papers when he left and got out of the hospital and all he wanted to do was get home."
But when Craft, a Vietnam veteran, got his eyes on the documents, he immediately noticed their significance and made a point to get him the recognition he deserved.
Determined family members teamed up with Senator Lisa Murkowski and the Judge Advocate General's Legal Center and School in Charlottesville to make Friday's presentation possible.
"We told him there was going to be a ceremony and he goes, 'for me?' And we said, 'yes, dad, for you.' And he said, 'why?' And I told him and he goes, 'I guess it's better than being undecorated,'" said Craft.
When Garnett turned the corner and entered the Hall of Heroes at the JAG Legal Center and School before the presentation, he was greeted by dozens of relatives and fellow service men and women eager to see him awarded.
"My goodness," he said while scanning the crowd.
Garnett entered the Army in 1943 after graduating from the University of Virginia the year before.
He was given the position of rifleman to the 2nd Battalion, 143rd Infantry Regiment, 36th Infantry Division. It had the third highest casualty rate of any division.
In 1943, Garnett, who was deployed to North Africa and Italy, was wounded twice in combat and held captive by the Germans as a prisoner of war for 19 months.
During that time, he received care packages from a Hollins College student named Evelyn Muller. They met at a social.
Now, the duo have been married 67 years. Even Evelyn didn't know what her husband went through during the war.
"He never talked about it," said Craft. "Mother never knew that he had any decorations that were coming. It wasn't an issue. He served like everybody served and he was proud to do it, but he was no hero, he said."
With a bouquet of roses on her lap, Evelyn, 94, sat beaming in the front row as her husband graciously accepted the medals and applause.
"I'm very humbled by this attention today," Garnett told the crowd. "Serving my country in World War II was honor enough for me as it was for countless other service men and women. I accept these medals in the name of all who served, and especially for those who made the ultimate sacrifice."
Colonel Stuart Risch, who helped lead the ceremony, said he was honored to recognize Garnett -- a "sterling example" of the greatest generation.
"When you see a wrong that needs to be righted -- this was so clear. It was easy to do, but it was something that was truly a labor of love for everybody involved," said COL Risch. "It just shows that it's never too late to get it done."
All awards presented to James Garnett:
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart with 1 bronze oak leaf cluster
Good Conduct Medal
American Campaign Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with 1 bronze service star
World War II Victory Medal
Company Infantryman Badge 1st Award
Honorable Service Lapel Button WWII