This Veterans Day saw a ceremony 68 years in the making, when 91-year-old World War II veteran Joseph Burnell was finally awarded the medals he earned in combat.
Sitting in a wheelchair and wrapped in a blanket against the cold November morning, Burnell was all smiles as Steve Bowman, director of the Veterans Service Agency, pinned the medals on his chest during the annual flag lowering ceremony at the Veteran’s Park at the old base oval. He received a Prisoner of War medal, an Army Good Conduct medal, the European, African and Middle Eastern Theater campaign medal with two Bronze Stars, and the World War II Victory Medal.
“This is great. I never expected this. I was not thinking I would ever get these,” said Burnell.
Burnell served in the Army from 1942 until 1945.
Bowman explained that after World War II, most soldiers returning from war simply went back to their lives, their jobs, started families, and didn’t follow up with the military to make sure they were awarded medals they deserved. This was the case, he said, with Burnell’s missing medals.
When Burnell’s paperwork was being processed for a North Country Honor Flight trip to Washington this past summer, the oversight was finally noticed.
Burnell, Bowman pointed out, served the country far beyond his military service. He was the volunteer driver of the Disabled American Veterans van, which takes veterans to medical appointments in Albany. He drove the van until he was 82. When he first started driving the van, Bowman said, he was the only driver the DAV had.
Following that ceremony, the Robert A. LaFountain Chapter 179 Disabled American Veterans conducted the annual flag lowering ceremony, simultaneously lowering all the flags at the Plattsburgh Barracks Veteran’s Park.