PLAISTOW — Roy Jeffrey went to Manchester yesterday to collect his Good Conduct Medal.
Jeffrey, 90, a World War II veteran, waited more than 65 years to be recognized for his “honorable and faithful” service, which the medal denotes.
New Hampshire veterans and folks around Plaistow would never describe Jeffrey as less than honorable and faithful.
He is the 2013 New Hampshire Legionnaire of the Year.
But as Jeffrey will candidly tell you, he came up a little short on the calendar, technically, to qualify for the Good Conduct Medal — about 48 hours short.
“I only served two years, 11 months and 28 days,” Jeffrey said.
But he contacted U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H., to see if something could be done.
It could. Yesterday, he received the medal.
“I was in the Marines,” Jeffrey recalled yesterday before going to Manchester for the presentation ceremony. “I was a pharmacist mate, a medical tech. I landed with the Marines at Okinawa, April 1, 1945, for one of the roughest battles of the Pacific.”
It would leave a lasting impression on a young man from New Hampshire.
“In World War II, we knew who the enemy was and why we were there,” Jeffrey said. “But it was still a bloody mess.”
He remembers going ashore.
“I went down over the side of the ship on a rope ladder,” he said. “I had a carbine over my shoulder and a backpack.”
It would test his courage.
“I was a scared 19-year old, just a naive little boy from New Hampshire,” Jeffrey said. “It was kind of earthshaking.”
But something — really a special someone — helped sustain him through the Pacific battleground.
“My wife, Carolyn — she was not my wife then — wrote to me every night,” he said. “I didn’t write to her every night, but I wrote to her as often as I could.”
He saved every letter and carried it through the war in his sea bag.
They later married, had two boys, three grandchildren, three great-grandchildren. Jeffrey had a long career as an accountant with Western Electric, which became Lucent.
Along the way, the couple decided to burn those letters of love in a brick fireplace, though Carolyn had to keep just one.
He later found it and still has it, a memory from a time when American couples wondered whether they would ever see one another again.
Carolyn is gone now.
“I lost her a couple of years ago,” Jeffrey said. “We almost made 65 years.”
Jeffrey’s commitment to veterans, recognized by his state award, is deserving of a medal.
A few years ago, he helped establish a veterans park next to Town Hall that includes service flags for the six military branches and a monument for people from Plaistow who served in World War II.
Jeffrey’s own name is on such a monument in Walpole, where he lived before moving to town.
“I did this because of the veterans,” Jeffrey said of the park and monument. “I wanted to recognize them.”
He was active in the effort to get citations from the town for those who served in World War II and is now trying to get citations for those who were in the Korean War.
“I’m a young kid of 90,” Jeffrey laughed. “I’m very fortunate. I can still drive and I live alone. I try to make the best of life.”