Veteran receives medals decades later

By Desiree Aflleje,

Sixty-three years after he returned from battle, a package arrived.

Ten days ago, Loren Priest sat quietly while tears fell down the cheeks of his wife, Virginia, as they opened the box. Inside, six long-awaited medals and pins commemorated Loren Priest’s service in World War II.

Priest, who turned 86 today, never received all of the medals the military awarded him after his service, and he lost the few awards he once owned in a house fire.
In December, his wife decided to track down the awards he had not yet received.
“A man deserves to have his medals for a job well done,” she said.

With an earnest look of gratitude on her face, she held the shadow box that now houses the awards, including the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the Combat Action Ribbon and the American Campaign Medal.

Priest’s job for a railroad company could have kept him home from the war, but he wanted to join the reserves. With a father who had served in the Marines, he wanted to follow the military tradition.

“I felt it was my duty to go,” he said.

During nearly three years of active service in the Marines, Priest fought in the Gilbert Islands, the Marshall Islands, Palau, Yap, Ulithi and Woleai, just to name a few places.

His sea-blue eyes retreat in thought when he talks about his memories: The day ammunition fired over his head and ruptured his eardrums; the day a torpedo landed beside him but didn’t explode; the day 126 men were killed on his ship.

He served as an honor guard during sea burials when bodies covered in cloth slid down a plank into the ocean. Officials recorded the locations so that families could know where their sons were buried.

Virginia Priest ran her finger across the striped ribbons that hold the medals.
Having seen the realities of war, it’s painful for Loren Priest to watch the news about Iraq and see what today’s soldiers face.

“He’s told me if was younger he’d go back in,” his wife said. “He’d do it in a minute if he could.”

She brought the medals to church last week. The pastor showed them around and thanked Priest for his service. Virginia Priest plans to hang the awards on the wall in their Roseburg home.

“It’s a battle well won for me,” she said. “He earned them, and he should have them.”

You can reach reporting intern Desiree Aflleje at 957-4211 or by e-mail at