Virginia Guard Senior Enlisted Leader awards combat medals to Emporia WWII veteran

Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, was on hand to award a handful of long overdue medals to World War II veteran Mat Franklin Spence March 16 in Emporia. Spence, an 89-year-old Emporia resident, received the Bronze Star Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge, and a World War II Honorable Service Lapel Button. Spence served in England, France and Belgium during World War II with Company K, 12th Infantry Regiment. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Public Affairs Office)

EMPORIA. Va. — Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, presented long overdue medals to World War II veteran Mat Franklin Spence March 16 in Emporia. Spence, an 89-year-old Emporia resident, received the Bronze Star Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge, and a World War II Honorable Service Lapel Button.

“It’s a privilege and an honor to have the opportunity to present these extremely prestigious ribbons to Mr. Spence,” Green said. “I will probably never have the chance to present these awards again.”

Green also presented Spence with one of his coins. “On behalf of the great state of Virginia we want to recognize his efforts and show our appreciation for his service.”

Spence served from May 10, 1943 to March 3, 1945 as a rifleman with K Company, 12th Infantry Regiment with service in England, France and Belgium during World War II.

Born and raised in Southampton County, Spence attended Boykins Elementary School and dropped out of school at an early age to support his family following his father’s death, according to his daughter.

From 1939 to 1943 Spence worked for the Virginia Department of Transportation and lived in Boykins, Va., with his wife Nellie, whom he married in 1942.

Following the war, he worked as a farmer until 1958. Then he went to work at the Southampton Correctional Prison and retired from there in 1984 at age 62.

Mat Franklin Spence’s son and granddaughter join the 89-year-old Emporia resident in looking at a photo taken at Camp Shelby, Miss., in April 1944 which shows Spence and other members of his Army unit. Command Sgt. Maj. Dennis A. Green, the Virginia National Guard Senior Enlisted Leader, was on hand to award a handful of long overdue medals to the World War II veteran March 16 in Emporia. (Photo by Sgt. 1st Class A.J. Coyne, Virginia Guard Public Affairs)

Spence has two daughters and two sons, one of whom was named after Camp Shelby, where he underwent training before shipping off for the war, 11 grandchildren and 12 great-grandchildren. Spence told his children very little about his time in the war, according to his daughter Jewel S. King.

“He told us he was in France, England and Belgium and that he was knocked unconscious and found in a foxhole,” she said. She said he was then taken to a hospital where he remained for a while before being sent back to Virginia. He was eventually discharged from the Army at Fort Story.

“I think when he got home from the war he still wasn’t himself and didn’t think about his awards,” King said. “We thought he had earned some medals but we weren’t sure.”

Last year Spence’s family contacted the Veterans Administration to find out about any honors their father might be entitled to. The VA confirmed in October 2011 that he earned a number of medals for his service and told the family it would take a year to issue. King contacted the VA a few weeks ago and asked if, in light of his declining health due to Alzheimers, the process could be sped up. The VA complied and the awards were delivered the following week.

“Everyone has been so helpful as we tried to get this all together,” King said. “We really appreciate everything everyone has done.”

“Today we have ceremonies like Freedom Salutes to recognize the Soldiers and their families for their service. They didn’t do that back then,” Green said. “But it’s important to take care of the greatest generation and honor them for what they did for our country.”

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