Korean, Vietnam war vets get long-awaited medals, honors

Billings Gazette

by Zach Benoit

Three Vietnam and Korean war veterans — two of whom passed away within the past few years — on Friday received medals, ribbons and badges they had earned decades ago.

“To be recognized, with World War II and the Korean War, after all those years is an honor and it’s quite emotional,” said retired U.S. Air Force Tech Sgt. Norman Leonard, who served in those conflicts over a 20-year military career.

At a small ceremony at the Big Sky Economic Development offices, at 222 N. 32nd St., U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., presented Leonard with the Republic of Korea-Korean War Service Medal and Ribbon, as well as the 50 Year Anniversary of Korean War Citation.

“As you can see from Norman’s shirt, he’s already received a few medals,” Tester said, pointing out Leonard’s outfit, decked out with two decades’ worth of medals, ribbons and badges. “Today, we’re going to add the one he hasn’t received.”

Honored posthumously were Cpl. George H. Ames, for his service in the Korean War, and Pfc. Michael A. Merrill, who served in Vietnam.

Ames, who served as Sweetgrass County sheriff for 20 years after leaving the military, died in 2011. Tester presented the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Service Medal with a trio of Bronze Stars, the Combat Infantryman Badge 1st Award, the United Nations Service Medal and the Army of Occupation Medal with a Japan clasp to his widow, Clara Ames, and granddaughter, Meggin Stewart.

“It means a lot that they did this,” Clara Ames said. “It’s a very important ceremony for all of us because it was very important to (George).”

Stewart said it took about 20 years to get all of the medals in order and that her grandfather didn’t push for it, but he didn’t ask them to stop, either.

“He didn’t feel like he should be recognized for doing his job,” she said.

Merrill’s widow, Barbara, was on hand to receive the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars, the Meritorious Unit Commendation Ribbon, the Navy “E” Ribbon and the Vietnam Campaign Medal with a 1960 device in his name.

Tester said he’s seen 57 war veterans get 470 medals, ribbons and badges they earned during their service. For various reasons, the vets never received them or weren’t awarded them.

Friday’s awards, as well as all of those from past similar ceremonies, will be entered into the congressional record.

“Without their sacrifice for this country, this country would be a different place,” Tester said.