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World War II veteran receives long-awaited medals

Ceremony at Elks Club honors Demuth's service

At a ceremony last Friday at the Littleton Elks Club, just after receiving the medals he never received during World War II, Francis Demuth holds back tears when speaking of his experiences in the war and those who did not return. Art McGrath. (click for larger version)
July 22, 2009
LITTLETON—Saipan, Guam, Tinian, the Battle of the Philippines Sea.

Names that have come down to later generations of Americans as far away legends were part of daily life for Francis Demuth 65 years ago.

Last Friday, in a ceremony at the Elks Club, Demuth received his medals for those World War II battles of which he was a participant, and shared and emotional moment when he reflected on comrades long dead and on wars raging at this very moment.

Like many veterans, when the war ended Demuth, of Lisbon, was more interested in getting home than getting medals.

Members of the Color Guard from White Mountains Regional High School's JROTC program carried the colors into the room for the ceremony. The Pledge of Allegiance was led by Cadet Lt. Susanna Whittum, who then sang the National Anthem.

"These are the future leaders of our country, I expect to see some of them in the military soon," said Dan Greenlaw, of Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 816, who officiated the ceremony. He said the ceremony was a "proud joint venture" between the VFW and the Elks Club.

John Moody, of the Elks Club, said that as long as there were veterans, the Elks Club would not forget them.

Choking back tears, Greenlaw recounted the work that Steve Huntington, a staff member for U.S. Rep. Paul Hodes did to get Demuth his medals. Huntington recently passed away. Another member of Hodes' staff read a letter during the ceremony honoring Demuth.

Hodes' letter echoed Gen. Douglas MacArthur's famous words to a graduating class at West Point, stressing the importance of "duty, honor, country."

Greenlaw recounted some of Demuth's life, when he left home in 1943 after getting his father to sign a waiver allowing him to go into the Navy at age 17 instead of waiting until he was 18. After training, Demuth was assigned to the USS Dortch (DD 670), a Fletcher Class Destroyer launched in 1943. He served as a carpenter's mate, eventually rising to carpenter's mate third class before his discharge in February 1946.

Demuth served on the USS Dortch through some of the fiercest battles of the war in the Pacific Theater, often manning a 20-millimeter anti-aircraft machinegun during kamikaze suicide attacks on the American fleet.

Retired Navy Cmdr. Peter Burdett pinned Demuth's medals on him. Burdett, who retired in 1993 after 23 years service, said he sailed through some of the same waters in the Pacific that Demuth once fought in.

"Those waters are now peaceful," Burdett said.

"Thank God," Demuth replied.

Burdett said the World War II generation was a great generation that went through trying times and said the current generation serving in uniform is a great generation, serving all over the world wherever needed.

As Burdett pinned the medals on Demuth's shirt, Greenlaw read the campaigns associated with each medal. The names carried echoes of those battles long ago, whose guns are now silent: the Marshall Islands, Truk, in the Caroline Islands; Saipan, in the Marianas; New Guinea, Palau, raids on Guam during the occupation of that island; raids in the Bonin and Volcano Islands.

Demuth became somber when asked to speak and emotions came to the surface several times as he addressed those in the audience, especially those in uniform.

"We still stick our nose where it doesn't belong," Demuth said. "But God bless all of us for protecting our nation as it always has been...and God bless the guys who didn't come back, I'm one of the lucky ones."

Referring to the current wars, Demuth said he hopes they are "the last ones forever."

After the ceremony, Demuth reflected on the most memorable events from his time on ship. The dropping of the Atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in July 1945 were the most memorable, because they meant the end of the war. He was serving on his ship in the Philippines at the time.

"Thank God it's over is what I thought at the time," Demuth said.

Another memorable moment was watching the surrender of the Japanese in Tokyo Harbor in September 1945. His ship was near the USS Missouri, the battleship where the surrender documents were signed. His entire crew was in dress white uniforms watching the events unfold nearby.

"We were witnessing history," Demuth said.

The medals Demuth received during Friday's ceremony were the World War II Victory Medal; the American Campaign Medal; the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star and three bronze stars; the Navy Occupational Service Medal with Asia Clasp; and the Combat Action Ribbon. He also received his discharge button, honorable service lapel pin and is eligible for the Philippines Liberation ribbon, which did not arrive in time for the ceremony.

Martin Lord Osman
Coos County Commissioners
Martin Lord & Osman
Tilton School
Town & Country
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