In November 1946, PFC William “Jimmy” Phillips was discharged from an 11-month stint in the U.S. Army after World War II.
Phillips, 20 at the time, had a choice — stay at Fort Dix, N.J. where he was being separated and receive his service medals or catch a train back to Middletown and re-start his life.
He opted to go home.
That decision meant Phillips, 91, never received his medals until this week, nearly 72 years later.
Judy Vincent from Hospice Care of Middletown coordinates “Wish For a Day” events for patients like Phillips, who has prostate cancer. She contacted Jerry Ferris, a commissioner on the Warren County Veterans Services Commission, for assistance obtaining Phillips’ medals.
Eleven of Phillips’ relatives travelled to Middletown Thursday afternoon for the ceremony at the Woodlands of Middletown on McGee Avenue.
“This was just great,” Vincent said.
Ferris, a member of the Military Order of the Purple Heart, and fellow Purple Heart recipient Randy Howson, presented Phillips with the following service medals: the Europe-Africa-Middle East Theater Medal; the Army Occupation Medal; the World War II Victory Medal; and Army Good Conduct Medal.
As a Vietnam veteran, Ferris stood in awe for what the Greatest Generation before him did during the World War II era and described Phillips as “a proud individual.”
While the medals and ribbons were being pinned on his jacket, Phillips said: “Oh boy. I hope my chest is big enough…. I loved serving my country. God bless America.”
Ferris responded: “It’s not so much your chest, but your heart.”
“I think this is wonderful,” Phillips said. “It means a lot to me that my country appreciates my service.”
While in the Army, Phillips was trained as a demolitions specialist and served in Germany and France with a combat engineer unit, according to his Army records. He also worked in the unit’s kitchen and prior to joining the Army, worked in the kitchen at Middletown Hospital.
But there was one thing that bothered him over the years: He never received his Good Conduct Medal.
At family events, relatives said Phillips recounted the story about his rush to return home and he hoped he would eventually receive his medal.
“I’ve heard the story since I was 5 or 6,” his niece Patrice Bender of West Chester said. “He has always talked about loving his country and why they (the Army) did not get his medals to him. He loves to talk about his time spent in Germany and France as well as the time he served.”
Phillips, born in Tennessee, came to Middletown at a young age and attended school up to the eighth grade, she said.
Bender said after her uncle returned to Middletown, he got married, started a family and worked for 30 years at the former GM Frigidaire plant in Moraine. He has three children, nine grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
After Phillips retired, he volunteered at The Dream Center and had a newspaper motor route.
Bender said her uncle also “loved his Cadillac cars” and enjoyed traveling. He remained active for nearly his entire life including cutting his grass on his riding mower until October 2017 when his health started to decline.
“It was an honor for me to do this while he was still living,” Bender said. “He’s my favorite guy.”