During World War II, Ralph G. Rumsey of Woodstock was a prisoner of war in Germany for six months. After struggling with his wartime experiences for 73 years, he's been awarded a Prisoner of War Medal, gaining the recognition he thought might never come.
At 96, Rumsey said he’s finally feeling some sense of closure.
He’s not satisfied yet, however; now, he wants to put the focus on other veterans.
"I always wanted to be able to help veterans," Rumsey said. He hopes to support other veterans in tackling the issues they face, particularly psychological issues.
Rumsey himself has struggled for decades with feeling a horrible itching sensation that he believes was caused by his time as a prisoner, when his bed and clothes were filled with bugs.
Despite his vivid memories of the war, his family said he never talks about it. Until two years ago, no one in his family knew that Rumsey had been a prisoner of war, according to his wife Ruby.
U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson helped Rumsey secure the medal, and Isakson presented it to him at a special ceremony for his friends and family.
One of Rumsey’s friends, Christine Maza, was crucial in helping Rumsey get the medal. She met him when she was a hospice volunteer several years ago, and one day while taking him to the VA, she noticed a poster advertising the medal.
“He was so excited,” she recalled. Maza helped him submit the paperwork, but when it stalled at the VA, she called Isakson’s office, remembering how he had helped her father, also a veteran. Isakson made it happen, she said.
“I’m just happy that Ralph is finally getting what is long overdue,” Maza continued. “He’s just been sinking. This really revived him.”
Rumsey’s stepdaughter, Jean Thomas, also believes that the medal will help Rumsey psychologically. “I’m so happy for him and pleased,” she commented.
At the ceremony, Rumsey was in high spirits, eager to share stories of his experiences in the war, both good and bad. Though he remembers the bug infestation in the prison clearly, he also recalled the way Paris lit up at night in; the days he spent there after he was released.
When Isakson walked into the room, Rumsey joked that Isakson was a “youngster” compared to him.
With a laugh, Isakson agreed. “I’ve only been here 73 years, you’re 96!”
As Rumsey received the medal, many of his friends and family shed tears.
“Thank you for putting up with the Germans for a couple of months in captivity, but in the end, you won and they lost, and that’s all that matters,” Isakson told Rumsey.