SUGAR HILL-Last week, 65
years late, Roger Aldrich got his medals for his time fighting the Germans
during World War II.
Better late than never.
He received his medals from U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen and an active duty U.S. Army colonel at a ceremony in Tilton.
Like many soldiers returning home from the war, Aldrich gave little thought to getting the medals due to him for his service. He just wanted to get home.
Even if he had wanted them there was a glitch: most of the records of New Englanders who had served were destroyed in a fire at the giant records office in Kansas City, Mo. There was no easy way for him to prove he was due certain awards for his time in the European Theater fighting the Germans.
Rather than worry about it, Aldrich returned to the North Country, working for 20 years at Harrison Publishing in Littleton and then in 1973 helping to run Polly's Pancake Parlor, which his wife had run since they got married in 1949. The establishment had been founded by her parents in 1938.
Recently, Aldrich began to hear about other soldiers from the war able to get their medals despite the loss of their records and he decided to look into getting them, though it wasn't so much for him.
"They're the only evidence of me being in Europe other than my discharge," Aldrich said. "I wanted to have something to pass on to my grandchildren."
During the 60th anniversary commemoration of the D-Day landings, Aldrich was one of 100 American veterans chosen to go to France for the ceremonies. Two from each state were chosen. There he received the Légion d'honneur-the Legion of Honor-France's highest decoration, established by then First Consul Napoleon Bonaparte. It was a moving experience for Aldrich and one he still speaks of with pride. He has several miniatures of the medal he can wear on a hat or other clothing. In France it was quickly noticed.
"Walking around Paris young people would come up to me and shake my hand," Aldrich said. "People stopped and saluted me in the street."
As proud as he is of the Legion of Honor, Aldrich said he received it as a representative of a much larger group of veterans who served. He does not view it as his medal.
By contrast, the medals he received last week were his and represent his own service in Europe, from the time he landed on Omaha Beach, June 23, 1944, to the time the war ended in May 1945. Throughout that time he was very near the front lines plotting positions as part of the 62nd Engineer Company.
"Those are mine, I will cherish them forever," he said.
The medals he received are the Good Conduct Medal; the American Campaign medal; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with Silver Star indicating two campaigns; the World War II Victory Medal; a lapel pin button for honorable service, more commonly known by servicemen as "the Ruptured Duck;" and a marksman badge.
Aldrich said he thinks all the attention he has received because of the medals "has been over the top." No stranger to attention because of his service and the book he wrote about his service, Soldiering Yesterday, and his time in France when he received the Legion of Honor, he nevertheless was surprised by the large number of media and politicians at the ceremony.
Aldrich is ready to pull back from the limelight for a while, though he said talking and writing about his experience during the war has been "cathartic."