Families accept honors for WWI veterans at State Capitol ceremony

sbarr@newsobserver.comJune 29, 2013 

— For years, Thomas Joyner Jr. of Raleigh has kept an illustrated certificate from the 1920s that recognizes his father.

“Served with honor in the World War and was wounded in action,” it says of the late Thomas Joyner Sr., a man who never talked much about his time in World War I.

On the certificate, Lady Columbia rests a sword on the shoulder of a kneeling soldier, and President Woodrow Wilson’s signature decorates the bottom right-hand corner.

When Joyner read a news story about a World War I veteran who had been posthumously awarded a Purple Heart last fall, he thought of that certificate and of the pieces of his father’s story that he knew. He decided to make some calls, to find out whether the elder Joyner might be eligible for the same award.

Thanks to research by the Veterans’ Legacy Foundation, he now has an answer: yes.

On Saturday, Joyner accepted a Purple Heart on behalf of his father in a ceremony at the state Capitol, along with the families of three other WWI veterans. Those veterans and one other WWI veteran also were posthumously awarded the North Carolina WWI Service Medal.

The ceremony opened with a presentation of colors by members of Western Harnett High School’s Junior ROTC, who dressed in WWI-style uniforms, and it closed with a bugler playing taps from the balcony of the Old House Chamber. In between, officials praised the memory of the veterans and their service.

“It is incumbent upon every single one of us to remember what they did,” Maj. Gen. Gregory Lusk, adjutant general of the N.C. National Guard, said to the audience of more than 75 people.

Afterward, Joyner said he thought his father, a corporal in the Army’s 30th Division who was wounded in 1918 while fighting in France, would be pleased.

“I just wish it could have been so my father could have seen it,” he said.

All of the families who were involved on Saturday requested the foundation’s assistance after hearing about the same ceremony Joyner did. The volunteer organization researches whether veterans from all over the country are eligible for awards and makes sure veterans or their families receive them.

For the ceremony, the volunteers tracked down original N.C. WWI Service Medals, which were manufactured by the Robbins Co. in Massachusetts. The tarnished and tattered medals were restored by the company, which is now part of the TharpeRobbins Co. based in Statesville.

The other family members who accepted the awards were:

•  Jan Curry of Apex, who accepted a Purple Heart and the N.C. WWI Service Medal on behalf of her father, Joseph Greene, a corporal in the 82nd Division who was wounded in the Battle of the Argonne Forest.

•  Tom Shaw of Bunnlevel, who accepted a Purple Heart and the N.C. WWI Service Medal on behalf of his great-uncle Colin Shaw, a private in the 30th Division who was killed in action.

•  Curtis Fitzgerald of Raleigh, who accepted a Purple Heart and the N.C. WWI Service Medal on behalf of his father, Walter Fitzgerald, a private in the 30th Division who was wounded in the Battle of the Lys.

• Betty Taylor of Fayetteville, who accepted the N.C. WWI Service Medal on behalf of her father, Alfred Page, a sergeant in the Army Air Service.

Tom Shaw said that without the foundation, his great-uncle would have gone unrecognized.

“It’s a great thing that they are honoring veterans,” he said.

Barr: 919-836-4952

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