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At 86, veteran gets his due

TILTON - "I always expected to receive these in a shoe box that came in the mail, not at a ceremony like this,'' said Roger Aldrich of Sugar Hill, presented yesterday with the World War II medals he earned some 65 years ago.

He received the medals -- including one for good conduct, another for marksmanship and others for campaigns the 86-year-old served in -- at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in a special ceremony.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., helped track down Aldrich's discharge papers after he got in touch with her office last summer. He had originally applied for the medals in 1973, but had been turned down because his Army records were destroyed in a fire at a Kansas military base.

He said that he couldn't think of much about his war service that he hadn't already discussed in his 1995 book, "Soldiering ... Yesterday.''

"I was a volunteer. I was never hurt or wounded in any way. But I came home with the inevitable post traumatic stress syndrome and I wanted to put my experiences on paper so I could finally deal with it,'' Aldrich said.

He entered the Army in October 1942 after having attended Northeastern College, where he was working on a degree in civil engineering. Aldrich was assigned to the 62nd Engineer Company as a topographical engineer.

He landed on Normandy Beach on June 23, 1944, after having to wait four days offshore because a storm had wreaked havoc on the temporary harbor where troops and supplies were coming ashore.

I guess I was the only one on the boat who didn't get seasick,'' said Aldrich, who went ashore with a veteran group of infantrymen who had fought in North Africa and Sicily.

He was a member of a survey platoon. The "mapmakers,'' as they were known, moved ahead of the lines, lugging tripods and survey equipment to establish coordinates for air strikes against enemy forces and strategic targets.

It was dangerous work; Aldrich recalls coming under fire many times.

During the Battle of the Bulge, in the coldest winter in Europe in a century, Aldrich recalls waking up one night unable to breathe. An eight-inch snowfall had collapsed the tent he was sleeping in.

After Germany surrendered in May 1945, he got to see firsthand the savagery which had been inflicted in German concentration camps when he visited Buchenwald.

His company was being shipped to Okinawa for the invasion of Japan when the two atomic bombs were dropped, ending the war in the Pacific.

"I didn't want to go there. I was grateful when the atomic bombs went off,'' Aldrich said.

He returned to New Hampshire after the war and in 1949 married Nancy Dexter, whose parents founded Polly's Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill. He and his wife ran the business for over 40 years, expanding it three times. It is now run by their daughter, Kathie, and her husband, Dennis Cote.

Aldrich said that he has returned to Omaha Beach four times since World War II, and that it is always an emotional experience.

In 2004, he received the French Legion of Honor, on the 60th anniversary of D-Day.

"I guess I won that one in the lottery because my last name begins with an A, right up at the top of the alphabet. But these I earned and they mean a lot more to me. They're proof that I was actually there serving my country,'' Aldrich said of the medals he received yesterday.