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Noank — Wearing an enormous smile on his face Monday and balancing on a cane, 91-year-old Marty Schames accepted eight long-awaited medals for serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps during World War II.
“I never expected anything like this,” Schames said. “I am flabbergasted.”
About 30 friends, public officials and colleagues from the American Legion Post 115 in Noank attended the ceremony for Schames on Monday at the Noank Veterans Memorial.
“This has been long, long, long overdue,” said Brian Turley of Noank, a member of Post 115. Turley said he made a call to U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney’s veterans’ affairs aide to start the process of recognition for Schames. He added that this kind of event will likely result in more veterans calling him to track down their medals.
Schames entered active duty on May 15, 1941, as an airplane maintenance technician. He served through the duration of the war and was a member of the 15th Bomb Squadron, which was part of the 27th Bomb Group. During Schames’ service he conducted missions in Tunisia, Naples-Foggia, Rome-Arno, southern France and the Ryukyu Islands. He completed his service in 1945 at age 23 and had the “whole world” in front of him. Schames went on to be a mechanic and an engineer in the aircraft industry for 57 years.
“So I was lucky, I was able to get work and keep on working, and working and working,” Schames said.
After waiting 70 years for the medals, Schames said he didn’t “lament” the fact that he hadn’t received them earlier. When his brother died and gave his military service medals to Schames’ son, Schames said he realized he wanted to have his service medals to give to his own son.
“Some people in the Legion took up the quest and all of a sudden it happened like a snowball rolling down the hill,” he said.
It is unclear how many WWII veterans are missing their medals. When WWII ended, millions of military service members were processed out of the military quickly and did not obtain their medals.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-Conn., said he and his staff had presented dozens of medals over the previous few years but that this was the first time he had presented the Legion of Merit Medal, which is for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services to the government of the United States.”
“I want to thank you on behalf of our country and eastern Connecticut for the amazing example that you set for all of us,” he said.
State Rep. Elissa Wright, D-Groton, presented Schames with a citation from the state’s General Assembly to offer the lawmakers’ sincerest congratulations.
Naval Submarine Base Commander Capt. Carl A. Lahti said it was because of Schames’ services and millions like him that he was able to serve today.
“I appreciate what you did for our country,” Lahti said. “The Army Air Corps in WWII suffered a tremendous rate of casualty loss, and I am just thankful that you were able to survive the war and to be with us today.”
Legion of Merit
Good Conduct Medal
American Defense Service Medal
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Service Medal
European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Service Star
World War II Victory Medal
Presidential Unit Citation with Bronze Oak Leaf Cluster
Marksmanship Badge with Carbine Bar