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Fort Drum man makes sure grandfather receives Bronze Star posthumously


CARTHAGE — James W. Franklin, chaplain assistant with the 10th Mountain Division’s 1-71 Cavalry Regiment, didn’t know it at first, but a journal from his grandfather’s time as a World War II prisoner of war would lead him on a mission to claim the Bronze Star that Cpl. William D. Franklin deserved.

He received the journal in the 1990s.

“I have an aunt. ... she was the one who had it and she knew already that I was interested in our family history, so she gave it to me,” Mr. Franklin said.

After looking it over, he filed it away where it was forgotten until a visit to his parents’ home in Pennsylvania in 2008. After that, he began researching prisoners of war and what his grandfather had gone through.

“Most of what he covered was from right near the end of the war. He had a time line that said where he was and when, but he must not have had anything to write with until he entered the second prisoner of war hospital,” Mr. Franklin said.

Cpl. Franklin was imprisoned from December 1944 to about May 1945. He spent some time at Stalag IV-B, a POW camp in Germany, and later a labor camp. According to Mr. Franklin, when his grandfather was recovered, he had roughly 80 pounds on his 6-foot-1-inch frame. He had been so sick that he was taken to a POW hospital and was expected to die there. Ultimately, he was taken from the hospital with other soldiers by Russian forces and later turned over to the Americans.

But Cpl. Franklin’s defining moment came the day before his capture. While fighting in the monthlong Battle of the Bulge, his tank came under fire. After escaping, Cpl. Franklin and another soldier went back to the tank and rescued two others in the midst of battle. Despite the chaos, the two remained with their comrades until they were in the safe hands of medical personnel.

The next day, Cpl. Franklin, a member of the “ghost” division that helped secure Bastogne for the 101st Airborne, was captured.

A general order recognizing he was to be issued the Bronze Star came a month later with what Mr. Franklin considered unfavorable language.

“The way it was written was like, ‘These people are currently MIA; this is what they did.’ They wrote it up like they didn’t expect to find them,” he said.

It was a justified assumption at the time, as more than 78,000 soldiers are still considered missing in action from that war.

Mr. Franklin speculated his grandfather knew he was supposed to receive the medal. But the man who died four months before James Franklin was born had always been described as humble, and his grandson believes he had been anxious to leave the past in the past.

“My grandmother said he was not the kind of guy to go and seek attention. All that was important to him was getting home and starting his life with his girl,” he said.

Cpl. Franklin had wed his sweetheart, Lauretta, in 1941. During the first few years of their marriage, they hardly saw each other. He had been in the Army for only a year, but before that time was up, Pearl Harbor was bombed, and many tours were extended indefinitely, Mr. Franklin said.

“I think it’s fitting that she’s getting the medal presented on his behalf to her. She was the reason he was doing what he was doing,” he said.

His grandmother on Saturday was to receive the Bronze Star for her husband, who died in 1977 from a heart attack. A small ceremony was to be held at her nursing home, overseen by the Letterkenny, Pa., Army Depot commander. Mr. Franklin was to go with his wife, Shawna, and four children to Pennsylvania to see the ceremony. Cpl. Franklin is due about six or seven lesser medals, Mr. Franklin said, that he expects will arrive in the near future.

Still, Mr. Franklin wonders what could have happened if his grandfather had not had the strength of will to press on in such a dark moment of his life.

“Surviving combat, surviving a direct hit to his tank, surviving a forced march, disease and all that stuff —I don’t know, you’ve got to look at those things and be pretty convinced for some people they were meant to survive,” Mr. Franklin said.

“To look at my family and see the impact somebody has long after they’re gone, the legacy he leaves by the examples he set for others. Two generations later, I’ve never met him, but I’m still trying to follow his example,” he said.

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