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Widow receives husband’s Bronze Star and Purple Coronary heart 53 years later

Fifty-three years and 6 months.

Marie Derry Nelsen, the widow of Military Non-public 1st Class David Wayne Derry, waited 53 years and 6 months. On Monday morning, beneath a white tent behind American Legion Put up 569 in Milan, it lastly occurred.

The long-grieving widow was correctly offered along with her late husband’s Bronze Star, Purple Coronary heart and Fight Infantry Badge, together with a half-dozen different distinctions and the American flag.

Greater than a half century after the 19-year-old was killed in fight in Vietnam, he lastly was acknowledged in an official ceremony, offered by Lt. Gen. Antonio A. Aguto Jr., commanding normal, First Military.

Sitting within the entrance row subsequent to Marie throughout the ceremony was her daughter, Trina Mueller — the one little one of Pfc. Derry, whom he by no means obtained the possibility to satisfy.

The way it occurred

Marie Derry married Mick Nelsen within the years following her younger husband’s dying.

Mick at all times knew the story of David Wayne Derry, whom everybody referred to as Wayne. A navy man himself, Nelsen shared in honoring the fallen soldier. He knew his spouse by no means obtained the medals from Vietnam that had been due her household, and he wished to make it proper.

At a public occasion in 2019, Mick bumped into U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Moline. He informed her his spouse’s story and requested in regards to the decorations. Extra conversations with Bustos’ workers adopted, and the medals arrived at some point within the mail.

Greater than a yr later, Mick Nelsen stopped into the workplace of state Sen. Neil Anderson, R-Andalusia. He introduced alongside Derry’s casualty report, asking whether or not it will be sufficient for the Illinois Secretary of State to challenge his spouse Gold Star license plates.

There to reply Nelsen’s questions was Anderson assist Ken Moffett, a veteran who has earned a fame for serving different veterans. When he realized the household just lately obtained Derry’s medals, Moffett pressed on.

“There had been no ceremony in 1968, and there had been nothing when the medals got here,” he mentioned. “I type of sheepishly requested Marie if she’d like a ceremony, if it might be organized. She mentioned, ‘Can we’ve one?’

“I believed possibly we would get a captain, possibly a significant to correctly current them. As a substitute, they despatched a three-star normal.”

Marie was thrilled.

“I used to be 18 years previous, pregnant, and I misplaced my husband,” she mentioned. “In these days, our veterans weren’t honored. They had been yelled at, and folks even spit on them.

“One in every of my brothers was very protecting of me. He was the police chief in a small city in Arkansas, and he went to the airport with the funeral director to select up Wayne’s physique.”

Throughout his presentation, Lt. Gen. Aguto informed extra of the story of Marie’s brother, William “Buddy” Younger, retrieving Derry’s stays.

With a shotgun resting on the passenger seat of his squad automotive, Younger is claimed to have warned: “If anybody disrespects Wayne at the moment, they will remorse it.”

All through her life, Marie made positive her late husband was revered, too.

“I am most impressed by the tenacity of a younger lady,” Aguto mentioned. “Marie made positive he lived on. You made this occur … via sheer drive of will and timeless love.”

The soldier’s daughter

Pfc. Derry was drafted simply after his 19th birthday.

Not even three months in nation, he turned one among greater than 58,00Zero Individuals to perish in Vietnam.

“He knew I used to be pregnant along with her,” Marie mentioned of the couple’s daughter, Trina. “He died in March, and she or he was born in August.”

Marie now has 5 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. Two of the grandchildren and one great-granddaughter additionally attended Monday’s ceremony.

“They are going to by no means know him, besides by an image and what we inform them,” Marie mentioned. “However they obtained to see their grandfather obtain these medals — see that his life mattered.”

Early in his presentation, the final apologized prematurely to Marie for “choking up.” For leaders, he mentioned, such occasions are “gut-punch days.”

He informed the viewers the household will treasure Derry’s medals as they’re handed from one technology to the subsequent. First, although, Marie intends to savor the popularity that has taken so painfully lengthy.

“I used to be so thrilled to obtain the medals,” she mentioned. “I’m so touched by what’s occurred.

“Many died earlier than Wayne and plenty of died after. Many extra will die. I believe it is so essential we keep in mind and honor them. He may not be right here, however he positively lives on.”


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