Veteran receives long-delayed medals

WWII veteran Jack Rickel, 92, of Front Royal, holds his five medals during a ceremony Wednesday afternoon inside the Old Courthouse Civil War Museum in Winchester. U.S. Army Sgt. Rickel ended his service in 1944 after an injury. Rich Cooley/Daily

WINCHESTER — More than 70 years after earning his Bronze Star Medal as a U.S. Army sergeant, 92-year-old Front Royal veteran Jack Rickel finally received it in a ceremony along with other awards marking his service during World War II.

Rickel and his wife Gloria assembled with family, friends and community members at the Old Court House Civil War Museum in Winchester on Wednesday afternoon for Rickel’s ceremony. Lt. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton III, who retired from the Army in 2012, gave the introductory speech and presented Rickel with his awards.

Those awards included the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device for valor, the Combat Infantry Badge, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with three Bronze Service Stars and the World War II Victory Medal. All five awards were placed in a display case and presented to Rickel.

The ceremony was standing room only at the historic courthouse, and attendees included servicemen of all ages and from all walks. Other WWII veterans from the area came to see the ceremony and meet Rickel. Douglas Butler, a WWII Air Force veteran from Winchester, said he hadn’t been to such a delayed presentation of awards.

“We got our medals as soon as we could and got out of there,” referring to himself and veteran Earl Zook from Stephens City, who served in the artillery.

WWII veteran Jack Rickel, 92, left, of Front Royal, looks to retired Lt. Gen. Edgar E. Stanton III, right, as Rickel is presented with his five medals. Rich Cooley/Daily

After Stanton’s introduction, Rickel regaled his honored assembly with anecdotes from his time in the service; some witty, some solemn. From bringing a German colonel to his knees alongside a bazooka operator to witnessing a friend being shot in the forehead amongst a flurry of bullets, his tales transported those assembled to the intense and perilous hours of battle.

“They say that flying is hours and hours of boredom, interspersed with moments of sheer terror. The Army is a little bit like that,” he said in his speech.

Rickel was drafted into the Army in 1943 at the age of 20 and rose to the rank of sergeant. After being declared missing in action by his unit when he ended up six miles behind enemy lines during a night patrol, his records went to National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis and later were burned in the 1973 fire.

He received a Purple Heart after shrapnel injuries on his hands and leg, and was still recovering at a hospital in Verdun, France, when the war ended in 1945. He did not receive the awards due to him after the war because of the misplacement of his records, and said he never thought of pursuing the awards once the war was over.

“I think I did not expect to be back,” he said.

WWII veteran Jack Rickel, 92, of Front Royal, and his wife Gloria look over the medals he was awarded Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

At the end of the ceremony, Winchester Mayor Elizabeth Minor presented Rickel with her thanks and a proclamation from the city to declare July 8, 2015, as Sgt. Jack Rickel Day.

In Rickel’s words, “I’ve never been a celebrity before.”

Old Towne Armory and Heirlooms co-owner Greg Butcher took note of a 4th Infantry Division pin on Rickel’s hat when he and his wife visited the Armory early last spring. After listening to tales of Rickel’s service, Butcher took the initiative to get Rickel’s records changed and give the veteran his due recognition.

“He’s getting what he finally deserved,” Butcher said. “I would’ve done the same thing for any one of them.”

Butcher estimated he worked with 40 to 50 people during the almost yearlong process, including Shenandoah University professor and retired Army serviceman John Winn. Winn recommended sending a form in to the Army Board for the Correction of Military Records, since he knew Rickel was already qualified to receive the Bronze Star Medal with “V” device with his Purple Heart.

WWII veteran Jack Rickel, 92, of Front Royal, looks to his wife Gloria as he holds his display of medals he was awarded Wednesday. Rich Cooley/Daily

Gloria Rickel was shocked to see a letter addressed to “Sergeant Rickel” arrive around two weeks ago, notifying them of her husband’s long-due recognition. Her brothers traveled in from Ontario and Barbados to see Rickel’s ceremony, joining with servicemen and other members of the community to observe this momentous occasion.

“It’s an opportunity for this community to remember the sacrifices, and to appreciate the dedication of somebody,” Winn said.

Contact staff writer Rachel Mahoney at 540-465-5137 ext. 164, or rmahoney@nvdaily.com

WWII veteran Jack Rickel holds his five medals. Rich Cooley/Daily