WWII Vet Gets Replacement Medals
By BETTY WATERS
After wildfires burned Lloyd Wells' house to the ground last September in the Raintree subdivision of Upshur County, destroying everything including several military medals, the brokenhearted Army veteran told family, "I served in World War II and you wouldn't know it; I don't have anything."
His memoirs, sentimental objects and everything else gone up in smoke, Wells, 91, further lamented, "You live this long and you have nothing; it's all burned up and gone."
Efforts of Wells and his wife, Billie, 77, to put their lives back together after the fire took an unexpected turn Saturday.
That's when about a dozen family members and friends took Wells on an outing in observance of Armed Forces Day to visit the American Freedom Museum at The Brook Hill School in Bullard.
There, Wells was surprised with a presentation of replacement medals by U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert and a flag flown in his honor over the capitol in Washington, D.C.
The ceremony began outside with the school's Cannon Guard, dressed in Confederate uniforms, giving Wells a loud artillery salute.
Inside, Brook Hill Founder Steve Dement welcomed Wells, calling him a true American hero.
Standing in front of the nose of an old Douglas C-47 military transport aircraft in the museum's World War II Gallery just like one he had jumped out of as a parachute infantryman during the war, Wells received the medals first awarded to him some 67 years ago
"It's an honor to be here to honor you," Gohmert told Wells. "I've never shown a fraction of the courage you had throughout your time in defending this country and making the world safe for democracy."
Gohmert added, "We have some new and different enemies nowadays but nothing can ever diminish the kind of courage you have shown and the devotion you have shown to this country."
The medals re-presented to Wells were awarded for incredible courage and acts of valor and were not something given to him, Gohmert said.
Gohmert told Wells, "It's your exertion, your courage and your patriotic feelings and your devotion to the fact that there is something bigger than ourselves to fight for that has kept us safe."
Later, Wells said it felt "really great" to receive the replacement medals and that he never expected anything like the surprise presentation ceremony.
His wife Billie, with whom he celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary a week ago, said the couple is rebuilding their lives and what a new memory the medal presentation ceremony will be.
"I was just trying to brighten his life a little bit," his daughter, Kim Baker, said of her steps to arrange for the lost medals to be replaced after a former museum employee informed her following the fire that it might be possible.
"I know it warmed his heart," she said. "All we were trying to do was put some pieces of their lives back together again that was lost in their house fire and getting his World War II medals was a pretty big piece for him."
Wells served in the Army from 1941 until 1945 in the 509th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Fifth Army Division, during several operations in the North African and European theaters of World War II.
Gohmert first presented the Bronze Star.
Other medals presented Wells included the Good Conduct Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and Bronze Star Attachment Single and Silver Star Attachment Single. He also received the World War II Victory Medal, Combat Medical Badge 1st Award, Honorable Service Lapel Button for World War II and the Parachutist Badge-Basic.
Wells was working in a Conservation Corp camp in Sapulpa, Okla., when he was drafted at the age of 21 and later volunteered for paratroopers.
Around the summer of 1942, he was sent overseas where his regiment was assigned to the 509 Paratrooper Battalion, which was part of the 5th Army, states biographical information from family members.
He was part of Operation Torch, in which paratroopers were dropped in North Africa in Algiers and Casablanca.
During the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the paratroopers helped capture the Island of Sicily.
In Operation Avalanche in September 1943, the 509 Infantry Parachute Battalion assisted the 101st Airborne and were dropped behind enemy lines near Naples, Italy, to draw the enemy away from beach landings.
They made a boat landing at Anzio Beach during Operation Shingle in January 1944 and went about 10 miles before being stopped by the Germans. The Anzio Beach Landing was a diversion to draw the Germans' attention away from the Normandy Beach Landing, according to Well's biographical information.
Wells also participated in the Battle of Bulge from December 1944 until January 1945 to help push back the Germans in Normandy, France.
Wells next big moment will be his 92nd birthday in July. He still works fulltime at Wal-Mart in Gilmer as an assembler of bicycles, barbecue grills and furniture. On his days off, he enjoys doing electrical work, wiring houses and barns.