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By Barbara Wilson, Illinois National Guard Public Affairs Office
The Illinois National Guard returned seven World War II medals recovered in Texas to an Illinois family in a brief ceremony at the Illinois National Guard armory in Machesney Park, Illinois, Oct. 20.
“Today we return these medals belonging to a great American hero to his family,” said Brig. Gen. Mark Jackson, of Frankfort, Illinois, Director, Joint Staff, Illinois National Guard. “It’s an honor to be part of this on behalf of the United States Army.”
Jackson presented the recovered medals belonging to the late Homer Stanger, of Loves Park, Illinois, to Stanger’s great niece Kathy Andersen of Roscoe, Illinois.
In early March, the Wise County Sheriff’s Department, Decatur, Texas, contacted the Illinois National Guard seeking assistance in returning Stanger’s medals to his family. Prior to sending the medals to Illinois, the Wise County Sheriff’s Department mounted the medals in a shadow box.
“We were cleaning out our evidence locker and came across these medals,” said Sgt. Paige DoByns, Property and Evidence Manager, Wise County Sheriff’s Office. “The medals were seized in a 2014 felony narcotics investigation.”
DoByns said she reached out to the Wise County Veterans Affairs (VA) Office to help track down the rightful owner.
“I called our local VA office and said ‘hey, you guys have got to help me,’” she said.
With help from Blake Walls and Laura Clark, who work for the Wise County VA office, Andersen was located.
“From Facebook, we were able to find someone who knew someone, and it just started steamrolling from there,” Clark said.
During the brief ceremony, Andersen described Stanger as a kind and humble man who never went into detail about his military service.
“He and his wife never had children of their own, so they were always excited to see my brother and I when we visited,” she said. “I knew he served, but he never talked about his military service.”
Andersen said her family did not know the medals were gone until the call from DoByns, and then she thought the call was a scam.
“We had no idea he had received these medals,” Andersen said. “Getting them back means a lot to our family.”
The medals included the Bronze Star Medal with two stars, Purple Heart Medal with one star, Good Conduct Medal, Army of Occupation with Japan Clasp and one star, American Campaign Medal with one star, World War II Victory Medal with one star, and the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with two stars.
Andersen plans to keep the medals for a little while to share with friends and family and research what Stanger did to earn the medals. She eventually has plans to reach out to the Clifford E. Johnson Post 9759 in Loves Park, Illinois, to see if they would be willing to display the medals to honor his military service.
“I don’t know if he belonged to the VFW, but as a veteran I would like to think he would go to the post to visit with his friends,” Andersen said. “We want to make sure he’s honored and the medals aren’t just shoved in a drawer somewhere.”
Andersen offered some advice to veterans and service members regarding their own military service.
“Talk to your family,” she said. “Let them know what you did in the military.”
Andersen also thanked those who played a part in returning the medals.
“There were many amazing people who went the extra mile to get the medals returned to our family,” she said. “This restores my faith in humanity.”