CHAMPLAIN — A picture may be worth a thousand words, but in the case of one World War II veteran, many photographs helped to bring him a posthumous Bronze Star.
Paul G. Rivet died of lung cancer in 1965; he had never pursued receipt of the promised recognition of his bravery.
But while he never talked much about his war service, said his son Leo, he left behind candidly captioned pictures, now yellowed with time, depicting wartime life as a first sergeant in the United States Army Corps of Engineers, Company “A,” 405th Engineer Water Supply Battalion.
Rivet further detailed his five years as a combat engineer with daily journal entries.
Also tucked away among his collection is a copy of a three-page letter dated “6 April 1944,” written by Capt. John I. Anderson and recommending Rivet for a Bronze Star medal.
But Anderson later died in combat, Leo said, and nothing ever came of the commendation.
Leo said his decision to pursue the honor for his father is simple.
“He never got the medal he was supposed to get. He was sick, and he never really pursued it,” he said, on the table before him a large stack of detailed writings and photos his father left behind.
“I just wanted to straighten the record.”
When Leo first looked into obtaining the medal in 1996, he learned his father’s records were among 80 percent of documents destroyed by fire at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis on July 12, 1973.
“After hearing that, I really wasn’t sure what to do,” he said.
But thanks to Paul’s personal archival efforts coupled with a keen sense of journalism, Leo was able to gather enough information to make an attempt to get the medal.
“We were really lucky he kept a good track of everything,” said Leo, who was 10 when his father died.
Paul made pages and pages of entries, beginning May 23, 1943, in his journal. He detailed everything from his company’s arrival in Morocco to the landing in Italy, where the men were given the considerable task of purifying and supplying water for members of the entire Army there.
“They did a lot,” Leo said. “They were mainly in charge of drilling water wells, building bridges and tending to airfields.”
One his favorite journal entries describes an extremely close call with live artillery.
“Basically, a bomb landed on a mattress in a tent and because of that it just didn’t go off,” Leo recalled. “They had to get the bomb squad at the time to get in there and get rid of it.”
AIR RAIDS, CONFUSION
Another entry, dated May 30, reveals a pensive Paul wondering what might be in store for his company.
“Rumors are still flying around,” he wrote. “They are saying (we are) destined to become a combat outfit and headed by George Patton. Why not?”
In his letter, Anderson praised Paul for his actions when landing on the beaches of Salerno. The men in Paul’s company were transferred from boats to landing craft, and he was in charge of taking the first wave to shore safely.
“Sgt. Rivet was placed in charge of the first group to land and was given the only information available, to take the group to a personnel assembly area, location unknown, and connect with further detachments as they landed and direct them to the assembly area,” he wrote.
“Under nearly constant air raids and considerable confusion, Sgt. Rivet displayed outstanding judgment and ambition on this task, and by late afternoon of the same day, all personnel had been assembled and accounted for without a single casualty.”
KNELT IN PRAYER
A photo Paul had taken the day before the landing shows the men kneeling in prayer during a church service at camp.
“Just before sailing for D-Day at Salerno. Big turnout considering the fact that only four of us ever went to church before,” Paul joked in the caption.
Another shot shows the entire company, mostly smiling for the camera, with an ominous caption: “Our Company. 27 men will not return.”
STORY OF HONOR
Like his father, Leo kept moving forward, tracking down assistance in getting the medal.
With the help of Clinton County Veteran’s Service Agency Director Steven Bowman, and former director Warren Manor, he gathered the historical information he needed.
“I just want to give credit to Mr. Manor and Mr. Bowman; they really helped me a lot with getting this done,” Leo said. “I also need to give credit to U.S. Secretary of the Army John McHugh for taking the time to sign the proclamation.”
Now, to Paul’s personal archives of war and peace, Leo has added the Bronze Star his father earned.
A collection, Leo said, that is worth more than words and tells a story of honor.
Email Miranda Orso: firstname.lastname@example.org