EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

April 27, 2013

Proud possessions restored

After robbers took Navy medals, veteran gets replacement set

By Mac Cerullo
Staff Writer

---- — An 88-year-old veteran of World War II whose war medals were stolen from his home last year has been given a new, authentic set to replace the originals.

Robert Wilbur of Amesbury, who fought with the Navy during World War II, received the seven replacement medals in recognition of his bravery and service from U.S. Rep. John Tierney, who procured the new medals from the Navy after Wilbur’s family reached out to his office in November.

The medals include the WWII Victory Medal, the Navy Conduct Medal and the Honorable Service pin.

Donna Wilbur Boulay, Robert’s daughter, said the family reached out to the Amesbury Veterans Affairs office after the medals were first stolen in October. Once the family was put in touch with Tierney, she said it took only about three months before the new medals were ready.

Wilbur initially wanted the medals mailed to him, but Boulay said Tierney put together an official ceremony, where he presented the medals to Wilbur in a frame last Friday.

“It was an honor to present Mr. Wilbur with the medals he bravely earned during his years of service as a submariner in the Navy,” Tierney said in a statement. “I am pleased that I was able to restore these medals which mark his acts of valor and want veterans across our area to know that my office can provide support in many similar matters.”

Wilbur first enlisted in the Navy after graduating from Amesbury High School in 1942. He completed submarine training in Newport, R.I., and went on to serve aboard the USS Flounder, USS Blackfin and USS Perch during the next four years.

While serving on submarine patrol, Wilbur traveled to Australia, New Guinea and Hawaii, places that he never would’ve seen otherwise as a small-town Amesbury boy, Boulay said. He couldn’t divulge his location to his family while on patrol for security reasons, but that didn’t stop him from trying to sneak a few hints into his letters home.

“Before he had gone off on the sub, he tried to come up with ways to tell the family where he was through code words,” Boulay said. “For instance, he might write ‘I saw Mary,’ that would be a code word for a particular country, but one of the first countries he went to was New Guinea, which he’d never heard of, and there was no code word for it.”

The constant threat of danger the crew faced helped them form tight bonds throughout their time together, and to this day Wilbur said he receives the occasional call from former crew members.

Wilbur also had his share of close calls while on active duty. One particularly jarring experience came when he learned that a fellow sailor who was manning his gunnery station had suffered fatal injuries from enemy fire. Wilbur was injured at the time and would have been there in his place had he been fit for duty.

“He brings it up every once in a while,” Boulay said. “He still is bothered by it, it’s something he realizes how lucky he was.”

After the war, Wilbur received the seven medals for his service, and as it turned out, he was also entitled to two more medals issued after he left the military.

The family discovered this while searching for his stolen medals, and while almost 70 years overdue, Wilbur will be receiving his eighth and ninth medals in the mail soon to join the others that were once feared lost.