After Jim Reynolds learned that his father had earned a Bronze Star that had never been awarded, he initially didn’t expect much.
“I was content. I told (John Elskamp) one day on the phone, why can’t we just meet at Hardee’s for coffee and you just give me the medal. He said ‘No, we’re going to do it the right way, the way it’s supposed to be presented,’” Reynolds said. “And I wouldn’t trade it for nothing.”
Reynolds and two of his brothers accepted a Bronze Star – the nation’s fourth highest individual military honor – on behalf of their father Simon Reynolds at a short ceremony in front of a few dozen people last Sunday afternoon at the Garner Veterans Memorial.
Mayor Ronnie Williams and Congressman George Holding attended the ceremony, with National Guard Col. Clifford Wilkins presenting the Bronze Star. Then the Veteran Legacy Foundation surprised the family with another eight or so awards and campaign medals and ribbons, about half of which his father had never been presented.
“This is a surprise,” Jim Reynolds said as he was handed a box with the decorations.
In times of war, it is not uncommon for medals to have been granted but never presented. Simon Reynolds died in 2008, and Jim Reynolds found various records in his father’s military separation papers when going through his belongings. After reaching out to congressional offices, he eventually got in touch with Elskamp, executive director of Veteran Legacy Foundation.
It was Elskamp who told him about the Bronze Star, one awarded for his actions during an assault landing during the battle at Mindanao in the Philippines. And though brothers Billy and Berry traveled from the family’s native Ohio, Jim figured the Veterans Memorial in Garner, where he’s lived for about 25 years, seemed the right place to hold the ceremony.
“There’s no better place for it,” Reynolds said, noting that both he and his father have bricks dedicated to them at the memorial. “The memorial here is fantastic.”
The elder Reynolds, a miner and a minister from outside of Cincinnati, left five children at home when he was drafted at the age of 23. He had been a heavy machine gunner in the military.
Jim Reynolds took after his father, serving as an associate minister at Aversboro Road Baptist Church and Clayton’s First Baptist Church for about 16 years. He runs a volunteer furniture ministry and warehouse that helps get donated furniture to people that need it, and also goes provides disaster relief. His brother Billy is also a minister and delivered an opening prayer during Sunday afternoon’s ceremony.)
Jim Reynolds’ neice said Simon Reynolds told her about the battle once, saying that people on both sides of him “were falling like flies.” Jim said his father never talked about his experiences to him.
“If you knew my dad, he’s a laid back, easygoing type of person. I never saw him mad in my life,” Reynolds said. “That’s what blew me away. I couldn’t imagine him operating a heavy machine gun.”
A deadly summer
The Battle at Mindanao began in March of 1945 as U.S. troops worked to clear the Japanese from the large island in the southern Philippines. After an amphibious landing at the Bay of Illana in the comparatively unfortified west the troops took control of Davao City to the east by early May. But efforts to clear the island of Japanese defenses stretched into the hot tropical summer on the dense jungle island. Some Japanese forces hid until surrendering after the end of the war, though effective control of the island came sooner.
U.S. sources estimate American forces, fighting at times alongside Philippino guerillas, lost 820 men with 2,880 wounded in the campaign. About 10,000 Japanese troops died from fighting along with 8,000 more from starvation and disease and 7,000 were wounded.
The Reyonlds’ two other brothers live in Florida and could not make the trip. The family has not determined who will keep the medal yet. Sunday they seemed content to revel in the accomplishments of their father, and the fact that, as Williams remarked in his brief comments, the final chapter in the book of of his father’s life had finally been written.
“I’m just happy I listened to John,” Jim Reynolds said of having a formal ceremony. “My dad is here. He’s watching. I believe that.”