Proudly remembered, never forgotten

Preserving the family’s military legacy is easy to do tastefully and respectfully

By: Brian Louwers | Warren Weekly | Published June 29, 2016

 World War II veteran John Rossio passed away in 2007, but his wife, Ann Rossio, 92, of Sterling Heights, now has a display that shows her husband’s military service. The couple’s nephew, James Bertolino, right, is the historian at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum.

World War II veteran John Rossio passed away in 2007, but his wife, Ann Rossio, 92, of Sterling Heights, now has a display that shows her husband’s military service. The couple’s nephew, James Bertolino, right, is the historian at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum.

Photo provided by James Bertolino

Advertisement

METRO DETROIT — During World War II, John Rossio crammed into a ball turret on a B-17 as his squadron from the 388th Bomb Group flew harrowing missions over Europe that turned targets to dust and left the crew members shaken. 

The death-defying work Rossio and millions of other servicemen and women dedicated themselves to completing more than 70 years ago hammered Nazi Germany and Imperial Japan into submission and eventually won the war. Decades later, proud family members often seek to honor loved ones who served by displaying treasured medals, decorations and burial flags.

“A family’s military legacy is important. Photos and documents can play a small part of telling a veteran’s story,” said James Bertolino, the historian at the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum and Rossi’s nephew. “Over the course of their military careers, they may have accumulated some items that are personally and historically significant. When organizing these items, you’ll need to decide what to keep, how to store what you keep, what to part with, and where donations and sales of items you’re getting rid of can be made.”

Bertolino said there are two categories of military medals: decorations and service medals. Decorations are individual awards presented for acts of valor or meritorious service. Service medals are awarded for participation in specific campaigns, expeditions, occupational tours or emergency duties. 

Attachments affixed to the respective ribbons —  stars, numerals, oak leaf clusters — denote additional awards or participation in multiple campaigns.

“These decorations and medals, along with rank, badges and unit insignias, can give a timeline of a veteran’s tour of duty,” Bertolino said. “The most common way to display these is with the use of a shadow box. These can be purchased at craft shops or online.”

Bertolino said the most important thing to remember when presenting military medals in a shadow box is the order of precedence. He suggested consulting the museum or doing an online search to learn more about the display order. 

“American families should be proud of their veterans,” Bertolino said. “As a veteran, you serve as a marker in time within your own family history. Military records, recollections of battles and personal letters home have helped many families retrace lost family trees. It can also instill pride to find out that you’ve had a relative at an important turning point in history.”

While preserving family military artifacts for display at home is one option, it’s not the only one. Some choose to donate items to a local museum or historical organization as a way of sharing their loved one’s story of service.

Ferndale resident Diane Dengate’s father, Frank Toleson, of Stanton, Michigan, left high school at the age of 17 and enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He eventually became a bazooka gunner and landed on Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Division in February 1945. 

Dengate keeps a scrapbook with her father’s letters and a handwritten roster of the men, and their fate, as they were positioned in the landing craft headed to the beach at Iwo. Toleson passed away in 2006, and this spring, Dengate chose to donate several other items he’d kept for years to the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum.

“The idea was that we wanted a lot of people to see it,” Dengate said. “We thought that was a way to honor my dad. He kept it a long time. I just thought it was more important for people to see it than it was for me to make money with it.”

For those who honor a loved one’s service through donations or respectful displays at home, the memories are important and priceless.

Rossio passed away in 2007, but his wife, Ann Rossio, 92, of Sterling Heights, now has a beautiful collection that showcases her husband’s military service to go with a lifetime of memories they shared.

“I didn’t appreciate him as much as I do now. When he was living, he didn’t talk about it too much. It was painful for him sometimes to recall some of the things they did,” Ann Rossio said. “I appreciate what those young men did during those days that went unnoticed. I’m very proud of all the veterans and what they did, and the ones that gave their lives to give us freedom.”

For more information about displaying military medals at home or making a donation to the Detroit Arsenal of Democracy Museum, call (586) 604-5393.

Advertisement