Tom Harrison waited 66 years for the war medals he earned after being freed from a Japanese prisoner of war camp in the Second World War.
Earlier this month, the 93-year-old Utah veteran finally received his seven military medals in the mail, including the Distinguished Service Cross and Silver Star.
Immediately after the war, a shortage of precious metals such as silver and bronze meant many veterans needed to apply to receive their medals. Those who didn’t were given ribbons instead. Many medals were awarded in the years after service members were discharged.
The medals arrived at Harrison’s house on November 4th, coincidentally his 65th wedding anniversary, and have provoked a mix of pride and anguish in the former army captain. While Harrison takes pride (predominantly in the men who served with him; he refuses to speak of his own valor) in the medals, they also reignite painful memories of the Bataan Death March, POW camps and the friends he lost during the war.
After American and Filipino troops surrendered at the Battle of Bataan in April 1942, Harrison endured the brutal Bataan Death March and more than three years as a Japanese prisoner of war. Today, he reflects to Associated Press:
“It brings back memories, but also makes you feel like somebody appreciated your service. It also reminds me of the people I served with in the Philippines. I’m the only survivor from my unit now. I’ve lost most of my friends.”
Harrison doesn’t expand on why he waited so long to claim his medals, but he is not alone. Retired 1st Sgt. Dennis Meeks is a customer service manager for the South Carolina-based Medals of America, which works with the military to distribute medals to veterans. Meeks points out that medals were the last thing on many minds when the war finished:
“The Greatest Generation just put this war to the side when it ended. They had other concerns, like starting families and careers.”
Tom Harrisons plans to display his medals in his home near the Salt Lake Country Club. He adds:
“They add excitement to an otherwise sedentary life. I can still remember it all, even after such a long time. I don’t like to bring it up, but I’ll talk about it if asked.”