By Terri StoverMay 24, 2018
HUNTSVILLE, Ala. -- Seventy-three years ago World War II ended. Thousands of service members ended their military careers at that time and began a new life. One of those Soldiers was Dorwin Kilbourn.
However, there were a few items the Army forgot to give Sgt. Kilbourn, better known as "Papa Lee", before he left service. Listed on his discharge papers were: the Good Conduct and World War II Victory Medals, and Honorable Service Lapel Button.
Papa Lee, 95, lives in the Regency Retirement Village in Huntsville. He is frequently visited by his two sons, and their extended families. A few years ago Papa Lee mentioned to his oldest son, John, that he had not received those medals when he left the military. John sought the help of Sen. Richard Shelby to see if those medals could be given to his father for his service.
"We all owe a great debt of gratitude to Sgt. Kilbourn and the rest of our nation's brave veterans for their dedicated service. There is no one more deserving of this recognition and honor than a Soldier who has devoted his life to protect our freedom," Shelby said.
During a Memorial Day picnic for the retirement village residents, Papa Lee was surprised with a short presentation of the medals by Security Assistance Command's Chaplain (Col.) Robert Nay. Nay, an Army certified historian, shared some background on the medals, which made the moment exceptional to the family and Kilbourn.
Nay said the Good Conduct Medal was established during WWII and is given to service members who served honorably for three consecutive years. The World War II Victory Medal is one of the most widely awarded decorations of the U.S. military, given to those who served between Dec. 7, 1941 and Dec. 31, 1946.
The third award, the Honorable Service Lapel Button, has some interesting background. This was awarded to military service members who were discharged under honorable conditions during WWII. Sometimes the award is referred to as the Ruptured Duck, because the eagle depicted on the button looks as if the breast of the bird is bursting through the button as though it has ruptured.
This award had several purposes, Nay said. "Members of the military many times did not possess civilian clothing when they left service and, as a civilian, had to wear their uniform for a period of time. The lapel pin helped to identify veterans who were applying for work or veteran's benefits." The pin also helped to recognize that they were no longer in active duty status, and many veterans wore the pin on suit lapels long after the war.
Kilbourn, originally from Flint, Michigan, was stationed in North Alabama during WWII as a recruiter. His eyesight prevented him from serving overseas. Upon his discharge, he attended Auburn University on the GI bill and received a bachelor's and master's in physics. He came to Huntsville to work at the then-Missile Command as a physicist.
Papa Lee was genuinely grateful for this presentation of his well-deserved awards. His family, with the help of Shelby, Shelby's representative Carrie Suggs, and the National Personnel Records Center, were also grateful they could honor their patriarch with his awards he earned 73 years ago.