'Ruptured duck' pins stir up memories for WWII veterans
Daily Gazette, Sterling, Ill.
DIXON, Ill. – Not many people know about the "ruptured duck."
Mention it to any World War II veteran and a smile is not far behind, or even tears.
Thursday, both emotions were on display when Lt. Greg McKinney and Cpt. John Westphal of the St. Charles American Legion handed out 17 of the lapel buttons nicknamed the ruptured duck to World War II veterans at Heritage Square in Dixon.
As McKinney explained Thursday, G.I.'s had to wear their uniform for 30 days after they were discharged because of the shortage of clothing, and the gilt brass lapels, featuring an eagle perched within a wreath, were supposed to be worn by servicemen to show military police they were honorably discharged once they wore civilian clothes.
However, veteran Fred Petitti, who served in the U.S. Navy, erupted with laughter when asked about his pin.
He threw his away many years ago.
"We got made fun of so much for them, I never wore mine," said Petitti, who joined the military at 17 years old and served on patrol boats in the Atlantic and Pacific from 1941 to 1947.
When he found out two men from St. Charles were coming to reissue ruptured ducks, he chuckled.
"I forgot all about them," he said. "It means a lot to me now. I treasure it more now."
Army medic James Dickinson, formerly of Amboy, still has his lapel in a jewelry box at home.
Among many of his fellow veterans Thursday, the ruptured duck sparked conversation about the war.
Dickinson, who had three brothers in the war, grew a wide grin when he talked about his father, who would mention him last out of the four as "the medic."
"That brings back good memories," Dickinson said, getting choked up.
Dickinson worked in a hospital in England, and one of his daily responsibilities was handing out Purple Hearts by the dozen to the wounded.
"Those poor men," Dickinson said in a somber voice.
Army Air Corp. veteran Don Youngmark, who flew for 28 years and 2 months in the service, including the Korean War, received the lapel for the first time Thursday.
"I was out of the service 6 months before the war ended, and I never got one," he said.
The ruptured duck got its nickname by veterans, because the eagle faced to the right-hand side, which was the same direction that doctors instructed inductees to face when told to cough during an examination, McKinney and Westphal said.
The two men told the 17 recipients Thursday to wear their lapels Friday, teasing that they would call the staff at Heritage Square to make sure they were following orders.
"Anyone out of uniform will have to peel potatoes," McKinney joked.
Each of the 17 men, in their 80s and 90s, and some in wheelchairs, were honored individually, including some who served in the Korean War.
One man, Pete McKune, entered the room in his wheelchair just as his name was being introduced, and McKinney read the certificate to him as he began to cry.
"This is awarded to you for having served patriotically and faithfully in the armed forces of the United States during World War II for meritorious service by the grateful veterans of the 7th Infantry Division, re-enacted," McKinney read.
McKinney and Westphal, both World War II reenactors, have handed out 250 ruptured ducks in the last 2 years to "any and every World War II veteran he could find," sometimes giving them away out of the blue to veterans they meet.
After the ceremony, McKinney said the smiles and tears are natural with every presentation.
"It brings back a lot of memories for them," he said. "Vets bottle up memories and when another vet recognizes them, they get very emotional."
Dixon resident Rick Munson met McKinney during a World War II re-enactment in Page Park and saw him hand out two lapels, bringing those veterans to tears.
Munson knew there were plenty more World War II veterans who needed to be honored, including his friend and U.S. Army Air Corps veteran Robert Schick, who flew and survived an unprecedented 20 to 55 air missions, among others. He invited McKinney to honor veterans in ceremonies in Dixon and Franklin Grove.
Frank Loomis, the lone Marine veteran of the 17, was given a special recognition from McKinney, also a Marine vet.
McKinney let out a hoot and gave Loomis, who was in a wheelchair, a big handshake.
He told Loomis: "Semper fi."