April 7, 2005 -
Battle of the Bulge vet
to get new medals
- Original awards were lost in 1957 in a garage fire.
garage fire stole Ray Kay Mower's military memories nearly 50 years
Gone were the pictures he snapped during World War II. Gone were the
old uniforms he wore while serving in both the Army and the Air
Force. But toughest of all, gone were the medals he earned during
about six years of service. Now, thanks to the Utah National
Guard, he's getting them back.
"I'm finally gonna have 'em," Mower, 79, said with a smile.
"It sure means a lot to me. You know, I'm getting pretty old. This
kinda puts the finishing touches on my military experience."
And it was an experience to remember, he said. From fighting
on the front lines of the Battle of the Bulge to driving tanker
trucks full of fuel for B-26 bombers to feeding hungry soldiers in
the mess hall, Mower just about experienced it all.
A fire in 1957 at his Holladay home in an unattached garage
burned up every old picture and medal Mower owned from the war.
"That was a lot of memories," Mower said.
Memories like that of the Battle of the Bulge, where 19,000
Americans lost their lives. It was Dec. 16, 1944 and bitter cold
with the snow at least 6 inches deep. Mower was asleep in a bunker
when enemy fire tattered the landscape.
"All hell broke loose," Mower said. "I wondered if the world
was coming to an end."
Mower was a gunner with the Army's
106th Infantry Division in
charge of mortar fire. The Utah soldier was in the thick of the
famous battle and came within inches of death multiple times.
Mower's days on the front line abruptly ended on Christmas Day
1944. Machine-gun bullets came close to Mower's body, but it was an
artillery blast that catapulted him into the air and slammed him
into the ground.
"I was picked up and just thrown and violently shook," Mower
said. "My whole body was shaking, then I hit the ground."
Mower pulled himself back up and escaped
without any shrapnel wounds or lost limbs. The blast did, however,
cause Mower to bleed internally and vomit blood.
Mower received a Bronze Star for "firing my mortar under
extremely dangerous position" during that battle. He was launching
mortar beneath an overhanging log that was so close "every time I
fired, there was smoke."
After weeks of rehabilitation at a handful of different
European hospitals, Mower was transferred to the Air Force, where he
drove fuel tankers that supplied B-26 bombers in France.
Once the war ended, Mower took a job as a kitchen worker in
Germany. While on the job, Mower traded his cigarette rations to an
elderly German man in exchange for German lessons. Mower learned the
language so fast he was promoted from private first class to
"I was just a 20-year-old kid in charge of everything," Mower
Years later, Mower had all but given up the effort to get a
new set of medals. He thought all was lost after the fire decades
Mower asked the local Division of Veterans Affairs for help in
getting his old medals replaced but never got any answers. It took
just one phone call to the Utah National Guard before Mower finally
got the answer he wanted.
"They've got 'em," Mower said.
Maj. Gen. Brian L. Tarbet, the Guard's adjutant general, will
present Mower with a new set of medals in a ceremony next week.
Among them will be a badge Mower received during training for
firing with expert precision with an M-1 rifle. "Only two in my
company did it — me and my lieutenant," he said.
Mower is a "great guy" who deserves to be honored once again,
said 2nd Lt. Wayne L. Lee of the Utah National Guard.
"He served in the Battle of the Bulge — there (are) not too
many of those guys around anymore," Lee said. "We thought it would
be nice to help him out and get his medals back.
"More than anything, he's a veteran, and we wanted to do
something for our veterans." (Leigh
Dethman, Salt Lake City Deseret News - Salt Lake City,UT,USA)