Miracle of the Medals

Click to read the actual August 24, 1994 article on page 2 of Long Island Newsday.

So both sides of my family are from Nassau County, Long Island.  And I’m named after my uncle Roy J. Juers, second-youngest of my father’s 5 brothers. That’s why I’m Roy J. Juers II, not Roy Jr.  Uncle Roy was my godfather (my mom’s sister, my Aunt Barbara is my godmother… she factors in later).

Uncle Roy was a dedicated Marine, who served in the Dominican Republic in 1965, and volunteered to serve in Vietnam 3 times before they actually sent him there in 1966.  He was with the 3/26 for awhile but was transferred to the 3/2/9.  In September 1967, he was killed by enemy mortar fire in the DMZ, two weeks before his tour was supposed to end. His unit, Golf Company of the 3/2/9, endured what some say was some of the heaviest & most brutal fighting of the war.

After he was killed, his personal effects were divided among his surviving brothers. My Uncle Gerry received, among them, all of Uncle Roy’s military medals, which included his Purple Heart, and its accompanying certificate, signed by then-President Johnson, and 8 other medals he had be conferred. So the medal case contained at least nine medals, his military portrait, his dog tags, and his stripes. At that point, when Uncle Gerry received it all, I was probably wasn’t even 3 years old yet.

Fast forwarding to 1978… both my parents had divorced & each remarried a few years earlier, and I left with Mom & her husband Frank from NY to Florida, where I lived until I graduated High School.  Dad and his wife Joan relocated from NY to Sacramento CA. Uncle Jerry stayed on the island.

Uncle Gerry then got his “eggs scrambled” a bit  (as Dad had put it) in a bad car accident, and became partially mentally & physically disabled.  He then moved to Sacramento to be close to my father. The medals on the other hand, had disappeared. No one had seen them for at least 15 years, but no one was really doing anything about it… out of sight, out of mind, I suppose. Then, I got a strange phone call in August 1994.

It was Timothy Glover, VP of the VFW post in Hicksville NY, near where my family had lived, back in the day. He questioned me about who I was… did I have a relative in the Marines who was killed in Vietnam? Was his name also Roy? Was my grandmother’s name Helen? Is my family from Oyster Bay? I was not amused at that point, thinking he was a genealogist, tying to sell me a book about my family tree or something.

Then he says, “… well I don’t know how to tell you this, but we have your Uncle’s military medals here. Someone came in, dropped them off, and just left.” Needless to say I was speechless… all I could come up with was, “I’ll call you back”, and called my father to confirm the status of Uncle Roy’s medals… and Dad confirmed, that no one had really seen them since the late 70’s.

So I went down to the VFW hall, and after identifying myself with ID, there they were… all the medals Uncle Roy had earned, polished nicely by the VFW and in a wooden frame encased in glass. I was tremendously thrilled, as was every member of my family. I even called the newspapers to tell them about it, but got no response. It didn’t matter though, we had the medals again, so we were very happy.

Three weeks later, August 23rd, I get a call from a Newsday Long Island reporter, who begins asking me some questions…
“I have a message here, that says you have, ummm, some military medals that turned up found, after being missing for a long time… or something?”
So I said, “Yes, and first off fire your secretary, because I called you 3 weeks ago!” I then told him the whole story, and he asked me to meet him at the VFW hall later that afternoon, which I did.

I brought with me, a picture taken by my late grandfather in 1965, of me as an infant, in the arms of my Aunt Barbara at my baptism, with Uncle Roy, my godfather, in full Military dress at her side. Presumably, the picture was taken shortly before (or after) his tour in the Dominican Republic. Coincidentally, Aunt Barbara (who years earlier had moved from NY down to Florida, a few houses down the street from Mom), was currently on vacation, and back in NY at my cousin Linda’s house.

After the interview with the reporter, they took my picture with the case of medals, and a picture of the picture I brought from my baptism. The reporter left, and in the whirlwind of everything I forgot to ask if this was even going to be in the paper, or if it was, how soon? So I left not knowing anything.

The next morning, I get a call from a colleague at work, asking me how it felt to be a star. I was still sipping my coffee, had no clue what he meant, when he told me I was in the paper that morning, August 24, 1994, which just happens to be Aunt Barbara’s birthday. Aunt Barbara, meanwhile is enjoying her daily ritual of coffee and morning paper. But now, instead of the Orlando Sentinel, it’s the NY Newsday she’s reading, and on the morning of her birthday… imagine her surprise when she opens it and sees herself, in a full-spread article on Page 2 of the morning paper!

Well, then the whirlwind REALLY started… I got all sorts of calls from other news agencies, various people who were inspired at the miracle of it all… even got a call from Uncle Roy’s gym coach from Oyster Bay High School, where he starred in athletics. A 16×20″ military portrait of Uncle Roy remains in the high school’s foyer, to this very day.

After the Newsday article was published, the man who turned the medals in, came forward… The paper did a follow-up article on him, and how James Knight, a humble sanitation worker, found the medals in the bottom drawer of an abandoned dresser, which was being be thrown away. The dresser had belonged to my Uncle Jerry, who when he became disabled, gave his belongings to a friend to watch over. Uncle Jerry apparently didn’t remember the medals were still in the dresser when he left for California; and the friend who held onto his things, obviously didn’t want to hold onto them anymore.

But James Knight felt compelled to protect the memory of whomever owned these medals, and the VFW post was the only place he thought of, where he could turn them in. The VFW, in return, set out to honor him for that, in a big way.

They arranged an honorary ceremony for James at the VFW hall, and presented James a beautiful plaque for turning the medals in, instead of just dumping them off at a flea market or pawn shop… which many people have done. My Dad came from California, my sister Lisa from Massachusetts, and it was a glorious event… The ceremony for James was standing room only, with local politicians, even a senator and a congressman were in attendance, as well as the whole Ladies Auxiliary. In a VFW hall where its President said they could barely get people there for regular meetings, there wasn’t a seat to be had in the entire house.

I officially “gave” the medals back to my father at that ceremony, and he promised they’d come back to me in his estate. Dad then told everyone a story that made me cry… he described how his mother (my “Nana”) had 3 boys, then 6 years later, had 3 more boys. Dad was in the older group of boys, Uncle Roy in the younger. Dad explained how he had to leave school to support the family (after his dad died at age 40), and how he had watched the younger group of brothers, Jerry, Bob & Roy, grow up, sort of from afar, as one of the “elder” brothers.

He said he always noticed something different about my Uncle Roy… Bob & Jerry were very loyal brothers, but bruisers of the neighborhood… not trouble makers, but tough guys for sure. Roy, though was gentler, quieter, respectful, loving & compassionate… he’d never back down from a fight, but if he was getting his butt whooped (which happened on occasion), Uncles Bob & Jerry would jump in and pummel whoever was messing with their brother. But Dad said there was an obvious aura about Roy; he was part of them, yes, but different… better… Roy represented the best in all of them…

Then Dad said, “And even if Roy was not my brother, I still would have named my son after him”.

I cried.

So… the whirlwind ended… sort of.

The final miracle of this story came days or weeks later, can’t quite remember… I received a call from a man, whose name I forget, who said he was Uncle Roy’s best friend in high school. “In fact”, he said, “he dated my sister Diane… and I actually have home movies from 1962, where your Uncle Roy is at my house, opening presents at Christmas with my sister…”

I was absolutely floored.

He also had some video of Uncle Roy doing gymnastics at the high school… and he agreed to come over to my apartment, with a projector, and we talked. I had just recently started smoking then, and had lit a cigarette.  And he said, “Wow… You know, your Uncle sat exactly like that when he smoked… same mannerisms & everything… it’s uncanny”.  Then, right there on the white walls of my living room, he ran the film on his projector, and I saw my Uncle alive, for the first time in my life.  And I cried again…

It really touched the very core of my being… other than having God in my life, I can’t think of any single event that has ever touched my soul so deeply, besides the discovery that Stephanie was “the one”.

So that’s my story… What a small and amazing world we live in.

Have a great day & thanks for reading!

Roy Juers

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