Sisters who labored to get medals due their late uncle for his service receive them on FridayA story decades in the making came to an end Friday when two sisters hugged and said “mission accomplished.”
By: Keith Norman, The Jamestown Sun
A story decades in the making came to an end Friday when two sisters hugged and said “mission accomplished.”
What was accomplished was the recognition of the late Gerald Block with the medals and honors he had earned as a soldier and prisoner of war during World War II. The mission had become the work and passion of Gerald’s brother, Norbert, and Norbert’s daughters, Linda Ray and Susan Johnson of Jamestown.
“Our father died in 2000,” Ray said. “It was his dream to see this.”
Norbert Block was also a World War II veteran. When he came home he knew that his brother had fought in the Philippines and been captured and held by the Japanese as a POW. He also knew that Gerald was killed when the Japanese prison ship he was being held on, sank on Oct. 24, 1944.
Gerald Block was a private in the U.S. Army during his service in the Philippines. He was 23 years old when he was killed.
“We knew of his death,” Johnson said. “But we never knew anyone that knew him as a soldier or prisoner.”
Ray and Johnson continued to try to learn more about their uncle but had little luck in the years after their father’s death.
That changed in 2010 when Ray and Johnson met Col. Glenn Frazier. Frazier was seeking the family of the man who had helped him survive the Bataan Death March.
In April 1942, Japanese soldiers marched about 80,000 prisoners 60 miles. The forced march was known for its brutality and resulted in an estimated 16,000 deaths in the course of a few days.
Frazier, author of the book ‘Hell’s Guest,’ about his time as a prisoner of the Japanese, was looking to establish contact with the family of the man who had helped him survive his time as a POW.
Now, with more information about the time Gerald had spent as a soldier and prisoner, Ray and Johnson set out to make sure their uncle was fully honored for the sacrifices he made. They received help from Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
“Sometimes it takes a little longer to tell the story,” Conrad said. “But here we honor a man that helped keep alive his fellow prisoners on the Bataan Death March and the freedom of all Americans to this day.”
Conrad presented to Johnson and the family the Purple Heart, a Prisoner of War Medal, the Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and Bronze Star Attachment, the WWII Victory Medal and an Honorable Service WWII Lapel Button, during a ceremony at the All Vets Club Friday.
Conrad also praised the Block family.
“Thank you for sticking with it,” he said. “Getting this story of courage and overcoming adversity out is important. Somewhere your uncle is looking down with a twinkle in his eyes. He has a great family.”
But Conrad also saw the story as a message to Americans.
“This is very important,” he said. “It’s an inspiration to everyone that reads this story. This is what patriotism is about.”
For Johnson and Ray the medals mark the emotional end to a quest for recognition.
“We want him to be remembered as a hero,” Johnson said. “But he would say he was just doing his duty.”
Sun reporter Keith Norman can be reached at (701) 952-8452 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org