It started out as a normal day at Bethany Village. When residents were eating lunch they couldn't have foreseen what was about to happen, especially one man in particular.
William Bea Jr., 88, is a World War II veteran who, unfortunately, lost his medals at some point "over the last 10 years." Bea was a member of 70th Army Infantry Division as a Private First Class, serving in the European campaign.
He enlisted on Aug. 31, 1943 and was wounded in France on July 30, 1944.
Bea is a Hawley native currently residing in Bethany Village. He is the brother of Shirley Bea Gumble in Tafton, and he is uncle to Dana and Debby Gumble who also reside in the Pike/Wayne area.
Long time friend William Wyckoff, upon hearing Bea's medals were misplaced, started a project to get him the medals back.
"I'm not affiliated with any organization regarding veterans," Wyckoff explained. "I knew he was a Purple Heart recipient. I'd seen it and held it in my hands. I drove him in several Hawley Memorial Day and July 4th parades and he always received a terrific response as he waved happily to folks on the sidewalks."
Wyckoff said he didn't know what other medals Bea was missing, but knew the Purple Heart for sure. He spoke to Jack Bishop, who is the State Veteran Affairs Representative for Wayne/Pike Counties, to see if the medals could be replaced.
"He thought it was possible and put me in touch with Tom McDonnell from the Office of Veteran's Affairs of Wayne County. I met with him at the Hawley Senior Center in Bingham Park last spring."
Wyckoff stated that McDonnell gave him the "appropriate paperwork and information" to facilitate replacing the medals that Bea earned.
It took six months, but all of Bea's medals and awards were successfully found. They even had his name on them.
Unbeknownst to Bea, Wyckoff, along with Junior Vice Commander of Honesdale VFW Post #531 Phil Sheehan, put the medals together in a "shadow box" and presented it to him. It contained the medals as well as an insert that explained what each award was for.
"It was a labor of love," Wyckoff stated. "Anyone in Hawley who knows Bill Bea very well, would have done exactly what I did if they only knew how. Hat's off to Tom McDonnell and Phil Sheehan who played a big part in this."
Teary-eyed, Bea was really happy to see his medals again.
"This is great," he said. "I never thought it would happen. I never thought I would see them again. I can't believe it. Thank you. I appreciate it."
"This is our way to pay it forward for you," said Sheehan. "You did so much for us and this country. That's what we appreciate."
Page 2 of 3 - Bea had nine medals and honors including the Bronze Star medal, the Purple Heart, the Good Conduct medal, the American Campaign medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal, the World War II Victory medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge (CIB), the Honorable Service Lapel button and a Marksmanship Badge and Rifle Bar.
The following is a brief description about each award Bea received:
• Bronze Star medal: Awarded for acts of heroism, acts of merit or meritorious service in a combat zone.
• Purple Heart: Awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military. With its forerunner, the Badge of Military Merit, which took the form of a heart made of purple cloth, the Purple Heart is the oldest military award that is still given to members of the U.S. military, the only earlier award being the obsolete Fidelity Medallion.
• Good Conduct medal: One of the oldest military awards of the United States Armed Forces. It is awarded to any active-duty enlisted member of the United States military who completes three consecutive years of "honorable and faithful service."
• American Campaign medal: Originally issued as the "American Theater Ribbon," the medal was intended to recognize those service members who had performed duty in the American Theater of Operations during World War II.
• European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal: Intended to recognize those military service members who had performed military duty in the European Theater (to include North Africa and the Middle East) during the years of the Second World War.
Colored bands representing Germany (on the ribbon's left side), Italy (on the ribbon's right side), and the United States (in the center of the ribbon) are visible in the ribbon. The brown and green areas of the ribbon represent the terrain of the area of conflict, which ranged from beaches and sand, to grass and woodlands, to mountains.
• World War II Victory medal: Commemorates military service during World War II and is awarded to any member of the United States military, including members of the armed forces of the Government of the Philippine Islands, who served on active duty, or as a reservist, between December 7, 1941 and December 31, 1946.
• Combat Infantryman badge (CIB): Awarded to infantrymen and Special Forces Soldiers in the rank of Colonel and below, who personally fought in active ground combat while assigned as members of either an infantry, Ranger or Special Forces unit, of brigade size or smaller, any time after December 6, 1941.
• Honorable Service Lapel button: Awarded to United States military service members who were discharged under honorable conditions during World War II.
• Marksmanship Badge and Rifle Bar: Presented to personnel upon successful completion of a weapons qualification course (known as Marksmanship Qualification Badges) or high placement in an official marksmanship competition (known as Marksmanship Competition Badges).
Page 3 of 3 - The presentation was made in front of a small audience of 40 or 50 folks after all of them had finished dining in their Bethany Village Residence.