TILTON, N.H. (AP) - For years, Roger Aldrich doubted that he'd ever see his World War II medals. Records of his service, along with many others, were destroyed in a huge fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis in 1973.
He thought if the medals ever did turn up, they'd be sent to him in a shoe box. "This is overwhelming," Aldrich, 86, said Monday after being presented four medals from Sen. Jeanne Shaheen at a ceremony at the New Hampshire Veterans Home in Tilton.
The presentation came after a Veterans Day event at the home. Residents were thanked for their service and sacrifice. Participants reflected on the recent shootings at Fort Hood and saluted a group of people called the Pease Greeters who welcome soldiers arriving from and leaving for deployments at a Seacoast airport.
Aldrich, who now runs Polly's Pancake Parlor with his family in Sugar Hill, was a civil engineering student at Northeastern University in 1941. He enlisted the following year, rising to the rank of staff sergeant of the 62nd Engineer Company, verifying coordinates for bombing campaigns. He was discharged in 1945.
Aldrich arrived at Omaha Beach two weeks after D-Day. His service also took him to England, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
He has been back to Omaha Beach three times with his wife, Nancy, and wrote a book several years ago, "Soldiering Yesterday," recalling his war years. In 2004, he received the French Legion of Honor on the 60th anniversary of D-Day. But he never gave up the quest for his discharge papers and service medals. He contacted Shaheen's office in July, her staff looked into it and the paperwork came through last week.
"It's proof that I was actually there," Aldrich said. "I wanted to pass them on to my children and grandchildren."
On Monday, he received the Good Conduct Medal, which recognizes exemplary behavior, efficiency and fidelity in active federal military service. He also received the American Campaign medal; the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and Silver Star Attachment; the World War II Victory Medal; a lapel button for honorable service; and a marksman badge and rifle bar.
"Roger, these medals are long overdue," said Shaheen, whose office is assisting with the coordination of the Library of Congress' Veterans History Project, helping to collect personal accounts of American war veterans for future generations.