Entries in Miltary Medals (4)


Daughter of World War II Vet Located After Medals Donated to Goodwill

MERS/Missouri Goodwill(ST. LOUIS) -- Just in time for Memorial Day, a mystery that started with a surprise discovery by Goodwill in Missouri had a happy ending.

A box of World War II medals, awards and other mementos was discovered by MERS/Missouri Goodwill earlier this week.

Lewis Chartock, chief executive officer of MERS/Missouri Goodwill, said he believed the box was donated to Goodwill but was likely flagged by a processing person.

Ron Scanlon, Goodwill's director of loss prevention, noticed the box when it made its way to the MERS/Missouri Goodwill headquarters in downtown St. Louis. He notified Chartock.

"He spotted it and understood it was important," Chartock said.

"There's all kinds of stuff. If you ever watch 'Antiques Roadshow,' you know they love to see all of this stuff together: a picture of the whole platoon, combat medals, and a Silver Star."

A citation indicated the Silver Star was awarded to Sgt. James J. McKenzie, a Marine vet who was also a prisoner of war during World War II. McKenzie was born in St. Louis in 1918 and joined the Marines in October 1940. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch said McKenzie spent three and a half years imprisoned in Osaka, Japan, and was released as Japan surrendered in September 1945. He died in 1979 of lung cancer at age 60.

Following a "heavy Japanese artillery barrage" on Corregidor Island in the Philippines on April 13, 1942, McKenzie rescued his comrades as they were trapped in tunnels, the citation described.

"Disregarding the imminent danger of collapsing walls and roofs, Sgt. McKenzie heroically entered the tunnels, assisted in extricating trapped soldiers, and gave first aid to the wounded," the citation said.

Workers from Goodwill found McKenzie's last address and learned the home's last owner was his daughter, Rebecca McKenzie. However, a demolition crew was gutting the home on Thursday and indicated that it was recently sold.

Chartolk's staff contacted the home's realtor, who gave them the name of a person who had helped clean out the house and eventually tracked down Mackenzie's daughter-in-law, Deborah Anne Ellis, in Avon, Ind.

Ellis directed the Goodwill to McKenzie's daughter in Pollock Pines, Calif., Michele McKenzie.

When Chartolk called Michele McKenzie on Friday, she said she cried tears of joy.

Michele McKenzie, a retired attorney, said she is not sure how the Silver Star made its way to Goodwill. She said the last time she talked to her stepsister, Rebecca McKenzie, was about three weeks ago, but she did not know her current whereabouts.

Though Rebecca McKenzie was not related by blood to Sgt. McKenzie, Michele said he adopted Rebecca after his second marriage.

Rebecca McKenzie could not be reached for comment. Her mother, Sgt. McKenzie's second wife, Toby McKenzie, died in 2006.

Michele's younger brother, Sgt. McKenzie's son, died two years ago.

Michele McKenzie's parents, Sgt. McKenzie and Grace Francis "Mimi" Woodlock, had divorced when she was five-years old. Her mother died in 1994.

Though Michele McKenzie only saw her father on weekends and Wednesday nights, she said they had a close relationship.

She remembers when her father would pick her up from school in the third grade, when he was a salesman.

"Suddenly, I would see my father down on one knee in front of the school, screaming, 'Mike', which was a boy's name, but I know he didn't mean it that way," she said. "I would drop my books and would run as fast as I could run to him."

But he never wanted to talk about the war, even when she asked. Eventually, she and her mother moved to California in 1969 when Michele was 19 years old.

She knew her father was awarded the Silver Star, but after he died, her stepmother told her it was lost or stolen.

She and her husband weren't sure what they are going to do with the mementos.

She said it's a "sad thing" that her husband, named Jim, never met her father. When Michele McKenzie got married in 1976, she couldn't fly because of a head injury and her father was sick and also couldn't travel.

"They would have liked each other," she said.

Michele McKenzie said she offered to have a notary send proof to Chartock that she is Sgt. McKenzie's daughter.

When asked how she might feel when she first sees her father's mementos, she said, "Hold onto them and kiss them -- something like that."

Copyright 2013 ABC News Radio


Boys Return War Medals to Medal of Honor Winner's Family

Courtesy Mazzariello family(NEW YORK) -- When his sons do well in school, Michael Mazzariello of Wallkill, N.Y., takes them to Newburgh's Antique & Collectible Shop for a special treat -- G.I. Joes.

A trip in late April brought an even greater reward when a bin of soldiers' medals caught the boys' eyes.  Rifling through them, Michael, 11, and Mauro, 8, came across three honors bearing the same soldier's name: Charles George.

The purple heart, bronze star and good conduct awards they found in the tiny New York shop belonged to the namesake of Asheville, N.C.'s Veterans Affairs Medical Center and a recipient of the United States' highest military honor, the medal of honor.

"We went in looking for a G.I. Joe Real American Hero and came out with a real American hero," the 6th grader Michael said.

The Mazzariello boys got to see the awards united with George's family at a Veteran's Day ceremony in North Carolina on Monday.

"It was the most satisfying moment of my life, to finally give the medals back to them," the 11-year-old said.

Terrance Berean, one of the store's owners, estimated the medals' worth at $800 because of their good condition and the unique circumstances of their origin.

"They were from a Cherokee Indian who died supposedly from a grenade, so that escalates [their value] way up," Berean said.

However, Berean's son agreed to give the Mazzariellos the medals for free on one condition -- that they find their rightful owner.

Using a combination of state senators, veterans and YouTube, the boys were able to determine that these were the medals of an American hero.

On Nov. 30, 1952, George, whose Cherokee name "Tsali" means self-sacrifice, threw himself on a grenade that killed him, but saved those fighting in his company during the Korean War.  His legacy was honored not only by his local Eastern Band Cherokee community, but also by President Dwight D. Eisenhower, according to the United States Department of Veterans Affairs website.

Eisenhower invited George's parents to Washington D.C. to receive the honors on their son's behalf and though they held tight to the Medal of Honor, their son's other awards somehow got lost.

Sixty years after George died serving the United States, the medals honoring his service were finally reunited with his family.  Michael and Mauro spoke to a crowd gathered to honor veterans, bringing both tears and smiles to attendees' faces.

"There were standing ovations, crying, crazy emotional.  And it was wonderful for us to meet Charles George's family -- nieces, nephews, crazy," the Mazzariellos' father Michael said.

After this journey, young Michael has decided he too wants to serve his country.

"I want to be a doctor for the military so I can help fix them," he said.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Pentagon Launches Website to Stop Bogus Medal Winners

Joshua Roberts/Bloomberg via Getty Images(WASHINGTON) -- Unscrupulous people will be less inclined to fake medals won in the military because of a new website launched by the Pentagon on Wednesday.

The White House and Congress were taken aback after a recent Supreme Court ruling that tossed out the Stolen Valor Act.  While admitting that pretending to be a military hero is reprehensible, the judges maintained that it's protected free speech and fakers should not be subject to fines or jail time.

But according to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta, "One of the most important things we can do for all veterans is to honor the service of those who have gone above and beyond the call of duty."

Therefore, the new site will list only those who have legitimately won special honors for displaying valor while in armed forces.

It will begin with Medal of Honor recipients and then gradually add other honors including the Army’s Distinguished Service Cross and the Navy and Air Force service crosses.

That way, people who seek to fudge their resume might think twice about it if there's a list that can expose them as frauds.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio


Obama Announces New Website to Combat False Claims of Military Medals

iStockphoto/Thinkstock(RENO, Nev.) -- President Obama announced Monday that later this week the federal government will launch a website to try to reduce the number of Americans fraudulently claiming to have been awarded medals by the military, a response to the June ruling by the Supreme Court that the “Stolen Valor” law was unconstitutional.

“It may no longer be a crime for con artists to pass themselves off as heroes, but one thing is certain -- it is contemptible,” the president told the annual convention of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, in Reno, Nev. “So this week, we will launch a new website, a living memorial, so the American people can see who’s been awarded our nation’s highest honors. Because no American hero should ever have their valor stolen.”

White House officials have worked with the military to compile and publish information about those who have received the military’s two highest awards for valor -- Medals of Honor and Service Crosses -- since Sept. 11, 2001. The website,, is scheduled to launch Wednesday.

Officials say that the effort does not replace the efforts of members of Congress to draft legislation that will pass Constitutional muster and allow for the prosecution of those who lie about awards. By launching a web site that lists those who have received awards, the White House hopes members of the public will be able to check to see if someone is lying.

Those in charge of the project hope to also gather information on the recipients of Silver Stars, and they’re reviewing the feasibility of including those who received awards before Sept. 11, 2001; some of the older awards don’t have the same backup records, making it difficult for the Pentagon to accurately assess whether an award was approved. Moreover, many of those who received awards prior to 2001 have since left the military, so their records may not be as current.

President George W. Bush signed the Stolen Valor Act into law in 2006. The bill amended the federal criminal code, “to expand the prohibition against wearing, manufacturing or selling military decorations or medals without legal authorization”; it also prohibits, “purchasing, soliciting, mailing, shipping, importing, exporting, producing blank certificates of receipt for, advertising, trading, bartering, or exchanging such decorations or medals without authorization.”

The law prohibited, “falsely representing oneself as having been awarded any decoration or medal authorized by Congress for the Armed Forces or any of the service medals or badges,” and it increases, “penalties for violations if the offense involves a distinguished service cross, an Air Force Cross, a Navy Cross, a silver star, or a Purple Heart.”

Those convicted faced prison sentences of up to a year.

In 2007, Xavier Alvarez, a member of the Three Valley Water District Board in Eastern Los Angeles, identified himself as, “a retired Marine of 25 years. I retired in the year 2001. Back in 1987, I was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. I got wounded many times by the same guy.”

None of this was true.

Alvarez was indicted under the law, but he challenged its constitutionality and on June 28, 2012, the Supreme Court by a vote of six to three declared the Stolen Valor Act an unconstitutional abridgment of the freedom of speech.

Wrote Justice Anthony Kennedy, for the majority, “Were the Court to hold that the interest in truthful discourse alone is sufficient to sustain a ban on speech, absent any evidence that the speech was used to gain a material advantage, it would give government a broad censorial power unprecedented in this Court’s cases or in our constitutional tradition. The mere potential for the exercise of that power casts a chill, a chill the First Amendment cannot permit if free speech, thought, and discourse are to remain a foundation of our freedom.”

“The remedy for speech that is false,” Kennedy wrote, “is speech that is true.”

That, apparently, is the idea behind this new website.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

ABC News Radio