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Family gets medals due World War I soldier

LILLINGTON, N.C. — Noah Bullock never made much of a fuss about the medals he was supposed to get from his days in the service.

Perhaps it was because he had plenty to do as a farmer and shopkeeper near Wade.

Perhaps he was just naturally shy.

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Or, perhaps, it was because the Cumberland County native still had a German bullet as a souvenir of his time in France.

On Monday, four generations of Bullock's family were on hand to receive the medals he earned — but never received. The ceremony was part of the annual Veterans Day remembrance ceremony at Harnett County Veterans Park in Lillington.

As more than 200 veterans, dignitaries and guests stood in applause, Bullock's daughter, Doris Gardner, accepted his Purple Heart and his medal from the state of North Carolina "for service in the World War."

"It wasn't World War I back then," said Gardner, now 85, as she gazed at the refurbished bronze medal and restored ribbon.

The original decoration, threadbare and faded from sitting in a long-forgotten box in Raleigh for decades, had been removed and carefully restored by the company that first struck the medals in 1919.

"They called it the Great War back then," she said quietly.

And on a warm, windy fall afternoon, more than 90 years after the medal was struck, it finally made its way home.

As best as anyone can remember, Bullock didn't complain about never receiving his medals. Born just outside of Eastover in 1893, he was a lifelong farmer, running a small country store in later years.

He met Eva Ward and the couple married and settled near Wade. When war broke out in Europe, Bullock became part of the 119th Infantry Regiment, 30th Infantry Division — the "Old Hickory" division, made of young men from the Carolinas and Tennessee.

He was wounded by rifle fire in late September 1918, likely part of several sharp skirmishes known as Fifth Battle of Ypres. The 119th was part of the Allied force that broke through the German Hindenberg Line at that time.

Gardner and her sisters don't know much more than that. Their dad didn't talk about the war.

"He was happy to get home," she said. "Once you've seen Wade, why would you want to go back to France? Or anywhere else on Earth?" she added with a giggle.

"He was a wonderful dad, and he took care of us. That was what was important to him."

After World War II, her dad opened a general store and gas station on Main Street in Wade. By then, Doris had married a solider of her own, a tank driver named Wayland Gardner who served in North Africa and Sicily.

"He knew about Daddy's service, but he didn't talk to me about it," she said.

The business was sold a decade later, as Bullock began slowing down. In 1969, Noah Bullock died and was buried at Bluff Presbyterian Church.

No one thought about looking for his medals. The only keepsake he had from the Great War was a bullet fragment fused to part of his uniform. And he kept that in a drawer, not out in public.

His combat decorations might have remained unknown, if Gardner hadn't begun delving into the records of her husband, Wayland, who died in 2006. While researching his records, Gardner was helped by the Veterans Legacy Foundation. The North Carolina-based group helps veterans correct errors in their military records — or, in the case of Bullock, receive military awards that were never awarded.

Bullock was to receive a Purple Heart for his wounds in France. He also was to receive the state's World War service medal. Hundreds of those were never shipped after the war, then discovered moldering in boxes in the 1970s.

"Those medals have been distributed over the years," said Col. Randy Powell, commander of the North Carolina National Guard's 30th Heavy Brigade Combat Team. The brigade is the modern descendant of Bullock's 30th Infantry Division.

"There are only a few left in existence," Powell said of the medals.

And on Monday, one of them found its way home.

Gardner said she'll show her father's medals to her sisters, then safely store them at home.

"But we won't make a big fuss about them," she said. "If he didn't, why would we?''

After the ceremony, as veterans from World War II, Vietnam and the Gulf all came up to offer handshakes and hugs, Gardner's prim facade broke, just a bit. She was visibly moved by the outpouring of gratitude.

"I didn't do this for attention," she said. "Mainly I did this for the family. I never expected to have all this done for him. Until today, I didn't realize what a hero he was.

"I just knew he was a great dad."

 

 

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