Earl White of the Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, left, and state Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton), right, give Fern Smith medals her husband earned but never received from his time in the Marines 68 years ago.
WOOD RIVER — Lonnie Smith was honorably discharged from the Marines when he was 23. Like any other veteran, there was lots of paperwork.
Somewhere, somehow, something got lost in the shuffle and Lonnie never received three awards he earned during his service in the Pacific theater in World War II.
Lonnie Smith went on to work as a welder. He married Fern Smith and they had a son.
Lonnie died April 2013 at the age of 90, having never received his medals.
State Sen. Bill Haine (D-Alton) recently presented Fern with her husband’s three missing medals during a ceremony at the Foxes Grove Supportive Living Community.
“We have a humble duty to remember the veterans who have served and sacrificed for this country. Sadly, we couldn’t give these to Lonnie while he was alive, but I hope that they can be a comfort to Fern and remind us of our obligation to every veteran,” Haine said.
“I didn’t know what to expect. I’m thrilled — this was unbelievable,” Fern said.
The process of getting the medals began when Fern talked to Fred Smith, a family friend, about Lonnie’s medals. Fred is a member of the Illinois Patriot Guard — a group of motorcycle riders who support the families of fallen veterans and first responders through honor missions and by shielding funeral services from unwanted protesters.
“Lonnie was a tough old boy and his wife is a sweetheart. I want his family to have something to remember — what we do is all about the families. If what we do gives them a memory to hold onto, we’ve done our job,” Fred said.
Fred turned to Haine’s office for help. During the presentation, Haine praised the Illinois Department of Veterans’ Affairs for getting Lonnie’s military records released.
“All the men and women who have served: Let’s not forget them and their service to our nation,” said Earl White, Southern Division Field Supervisor for the department. White, Veterans’ Service Officer Ed Barnes and Field Services Manager Harry Sawyer procured the medals.
During the event White also presented Fern with an Illinois state flag.
Haine had the honor of presenting Fern with the Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal, China Service Medal and the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal that her husband earned serving our country.
The Marine Corps Expeditionary Medal is awarded to Marines who land on foreign territory, engage in operations against armed opposition or operate under circumstances that earn special recognition and when no other campaign medal has been awarded. This medal was first issued in 1919 and is still awarded today.
The China Service Medal was awarded to members of the Navy and Marine Corps who served in China or its territorial waters in either the lead up or aftermath of World War II.
The Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal was awarded to members of the armed forces who served in the Pacific theater of World War II.