U.S. military service members are reluctant to speak of their time of service.
For them, they were just doing their jobs and their duty.
It wasn’t until veteran journalist Tom Brokaw wrote his book, “The Greatest Generation,” that many of the stories of their sacrifices and heroics came into the public consciousness.
Sadly, many of those stories came and still come from friends and family as the generation which fought World War II fades into history.
The reluctance of telling those stories remains in the service today, but it does not mean those who have served with honor do not have an appreciation for the recognition of what they have done.
The military has many medals which are given to those who have served and sacrificed, but because of the sometimes squeaky wheel that is bureaucracy, those medals have occasionally been delayed.
More than 16 million records were damaged or destroyed when a fire swept through the National Personnel Record Center in 1973.
Those records documented the service history of former military personnel discharged from 1912-1964.
However, the military uses alternate sources to reconstruct those histories and make every attempt to ensure those who served get their just due.
One Cleveland man can honestly report this does happen and the sacrifice is not forgotten.
Charles D. DeFriese comes from a family which is rich in military history and service; but the medals his father, the late Charles M. DeFriese, earned were not physically where they should be — with his family.
DeFriese had his father’s records. He asked for assistance from Joe Davis, Bradley County Veterans Service officer.
“Joe (Davis) and I put it together and sent it away,” DeFriese said. “It took six months and I thought I wasn’t going to hear anything. But, they wrote me a letter and said they had everything. And, ‘We have your father’s medals.’ ”
The elder DeFriese earned numerous medals awarded by the U.S. Army, including two Bronze Stars, which are awarded for bravery, acts of merit or meritorious service.
It is currently the fourth highest award a military serviceman can earn in combat operations and the ninth highest award in the military overall.
“If you get a Bronze Star, you’re going to know where you got it and how you got it,” DeFriese said.
He added the same was true for those who receive a Purple Heart, which is awarded to those who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy or posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action.
He noted the Stolen Valor Act, which was passed last year making it a crime for individuals to make claim to honors they have not rightly earned.
DeFriese says there are no real veterans who cannot tell — “at the snap of a finger” — every time, place, date and event of their military service.
“If you get a Purple Heart, you have to be wounded in combat. I don’t care if you get a finger cut off or shot off, you’re going to remember that,” DeFriese said.
“You’ll always know exactly where it happened. You’ll know everywhere you’ve been in the military and you will always remember everything about it.”
“Anyone who has served in the military, his serial numbers are branded in his brain. You don’t forget. They can tell you in a jiffy what they did.”
He said the fact he was able to get his father’s medals after such a long period of time shows getting the records to prove one’s service is not hard.
“When the Veterans’ Service contacted me, they had all of my father’s records but they would not be sending me his medals, the Army would. But, it might be a few months because they are normally behind,” he said.
A few months later, they came in a package.
For marksmanship, service, and bravery — they were all there.
“My father was 36 years old when they drafted him,” DeFriese said. “He fought all over Germany and was one of the first to cross the Rhine river. All these medals he got — he earned them.”
DeFriese also had his father’s honorable discharge papers and certificate — still clearly readable 69 years after they were originally produced.
“The DD-214 shows where he trained in Florida, when he was drafted and where he captured a German P-38 and was allowed to bring it home, the ship he came back on and where he was discharged,” he said.
The younger DeFriese can also immediately tell his date and place of discharge — April 9, 1964, at Fort Campbell, Ky., and he produced the original 50-year old documentation.
There were six DeFriese boys, two were deceased, but the other four all served in the military.
“We all volunteered except my father,” he said.
Charles D. served in a strike unit in the 46th Infantry in Germany as part of the 7th Army and was qualified for almost every weapon used from guns to bazookas.
He was involved in a multi-national unit in the mountains of Greece during a NATO situation.
“We were in the mountains for 40 days and weren’t allowed to tell anyone,” he recalled. “We could write a letter home and say we were called up, but we really didn’t know where we were going until the night before.”
Charles D. was also on duty during what can be called the 13 most tense days in modern history — the Cuban Missile Crisis.
“I was in Germany and they called a ‘red alert’ at midnight. We had alerts, but we always dreaded a ‘red alert,’ because we knew we were gone if that sounded. That was it,” he said.
“We went to the airstrip and had a C-124 opened up ready to load our trucks and everything. The whole outfit went. All personnel and records. You weren’t coming back. We didn’t know where we were going. We weren’t going to Cuba, but probably the Czech border. We just didn’t know.”
While Charles D. was at Fort Campbell, he served with local Medal of Honor recipient Paul Huff.
“He was my post sergeant major,” he said. “I knew him when he got his medal with the big parade. He was 19 when he got that. I knew the whole family and they were good people.”
He was also given a spot with “The Old Guard” in Arlington, Va., part of whose duties it is to participate in ceremonies at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier at Arlington National Cemetery.
“They told me it was one of he greatest honors I’d ever have,” DeFriese said.
He was told if he chose not to stay, he could go anywhere in the Army he wanted to go.
“I told them I’m a trucker and I wanted to stay, but I didn’t want to be in the company. I told him it’s not my gig,” DeFriese said.
He went to headquarters company, re-enlisted and was sent to Germany.
In total, he served four years of active duty and two years of inactive service.
“Me and my father have all our awards and so do my four brothers,” he said. “It’s all here where you can see it.”
DeFriese is glad to see the Stolen Valor Act become law.
“Those who say they are (medal recipients) and won’t step up to prove it are a disgrace. It’s offensive to anyone who has served in the military — all the families who were torn apart when people were maimed and killed.”
DeFriese said he was compelled to tell the story of his father’s medals as a tribute to veterans who have truly sacrificed.