Mystery of Utah WWII veteran's new medals solved

AP News
Posted: Nov 14, 2011 8:23 PM
Mystery of Utah WWII veteran's new medals solved

When a World War II veteran in Salt Lake City received a package of seven medals earlier this month, he and his family couldn't figure out why they had been delivered 66 years after his discharge.

It turns out that Tom Harrison actually submitted the request himself more than seven months ago as part of a larger application for military records. The 93-year-old veteran doesn't remember making the request _ so he was surprised when the medals showed up Nov. 4 without any note of explanation.

"It's not a mystery," said Niels Zussblatt, a management analyst with the National Personnel Records Center, after a story by The Associated Press over the Veteran's Day weekend drew attention to Harrison's case.

But it is understandable that Harrison may not recall his request for the medals, Zussblatt said, when "months later they just show up in a box."

The center, which is based in St. Louis, handles military records requests for the National Archives and Records Administration.

There are no records of Harrison receiving the medals previously, Zussblatt said, which is also not unusual for World War II veterans.

"At the end of the war, everybody moved on with their lives," Zussblatt said.

The seven medals were delivered to Harrison with only a packing slip from an Army logistics center in Philadelphia enclosed. There was no letter of explanation or certificate, which Zussblatt said is standard for medals distributed for free by the federal government to veterans.

Military records are often requested by veterans, family members or even assisted living facilities to ensure that the proper commendations are given to a person when they die, Zussblatt said. On the application, there's a box to check to request replacement medals. Harrison checked the box.

The medals included the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star. A review of his records shows he also earned the Prisoner of War and Asiatic-Pacific Campaign medals, which will be delivered to him soon.

Harrison was stationed in the Philippines prior to the bombing of Pearl Harbor with a field artillery unit and training Filipino troops, and then fought the Japanese in the Battle of Bataan. He eventually survived the Bataan Death March and more than three years as a prisoner of the Japanese.

The Department of Defense has not returned calls or emails from AP asking about the medals, and other attempts to solve the mystery were unsuccessful. Zussblatt reached out to the AP on Monday after reading the story to offer an explanation for the mysterious medals.

When the medals arrived, Harrison said they refreshed some painful memories for him but gave him a sense of renewed pride because they reminded him that the country valued his service.

His son, Paul Harrison, said the family has since honored his father with a dinner. He said it made sense that the application came from his father, who was working with a veteran's group to file paperwork while at an assisted living facility in April.


Josh Loftin can be reached at