Medals move out of the shadows and into a place of distinction

Medals move out of the shadows and into a place of distinction

Medals move out of the shadows and into a place of distinction
Veterans Bill Green, left, Steve Burchik and Jim Hill, far right, show off their military shadow boxes, with Dennis Giacovelli, president of the Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley. (Photo by David Scholz)

Veterans displaying honors with pride in memory boxes

CONTRA COSTA COUNTY, CA (May 19, 2022) — Medals, pins, badges and ribbons bestowed on those who served this nation with valor are emerging after decades of being tucked away in the shadows.

Rather than stuffed into shoe boxes or the corners of dresser drawers, these priceless heirlooms are finding new homes in shadow boxes. Proudly displayed for others to see, they hold the memories of brothers and sisters in arms that remain foremost in the minds of their holders.

These recollections, some unbearably painful, are the reality for some veterans whose honors have been long forgotten and, worse yet, sadly discarded.

Reasons that the honors don’t get properly displayed vary, according to Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley (VNVDV) vice president Steve Burchik, but most common is “I just never got around to it.” Others include “not a lot to put in it,” “not sure where to find paperwork for medals” and “lost records after multiple moves, divorce, etc.”

Finding available resources

Some of the credit for the increased popularity in protecting and displaying these mementos goes to the Internet, where governmental and commercial resources are available to assist veterans with replacing lost items and identifying other honors they earned since leaving the service.

And if it is not the veteran him or herself, other family members are creating displays for a veteran they love, Burchik said.

VNVDV has teamed up with docents at the Veterans Memorial Building of San Ramon Valley in Danville to provide a central location for any Northern California veteran, regardless of the conflict in which they served, to receive in-person assistance with assembling a shadow box.

The TV program “Veterans’ Voices” had showcased shadow boxes in a limited way before this January’s broadcast put the full spotlight on them – and VNVDV’s program. Viewing of the show subsequently generated more than 8,000 hits on Facebook and YouTube, with a wide variety of comments.

Burchik used that greater exposure as the impetus to join forces with the VBM staff as a one-stop for veterans.

Moving past the pain

Jim Hill of Danville was among the first veterans to have his memory box featured on “Veterans’ Voices.”

“I was really proud they showed it,” said Hill. “It was really nice looking.’’

Hill acknowledges that for some veterans, especially those from the Vietnam era, the idea of sharing these relics is not as easy as bringing out a box of old family photos and traveling down memory lane. When a lot of veterans returned “to the world,” as Hill put it, the only thing they wanted to do was take off the uniforms – and the medals – and stuff them in a duffle bag. Vietnam was not a popular war and returning veterans felt the brunt of a nation’s ire. And the last thing veterans wanted was more attention brought upon themselves.

But as the decades passed, healing took place and Americans gained a new perspective. “The country started thanking us, and that was the impetus for people to come out,” Hill said.

“It helped me to remember more and start thinking about some of the details that were stored back in my mind,” he continued. “It helped me to remember and to become proud of that time.”

So like many of his peers, Hill took that next step and opened his box.

Educating the next generation

Volunteers from the Viet Nam Veterans of Diablo Valley and the Veterans Memorial Building of San Ramon Valley are helping local veterans preserve their military honors.

Fellow Vietnam veteran and Alamo resident Bill Green echoed Hill’s thoughts. His family was instrumental in bringing forth his various commendations and the stories each told.

“It was my children who wanted to see them and learn about them,” said Green, whose eyes began to well up.

In turn, Green took more pride in them – understanding these pieces of history were bigger than himself.

Green and Hill spoke of two experiences a veteran can have when creating a shadow box.

One, it’s a means to go back and recognize the service he or she performed and “you find it is healthy.”

At the same time, Hill noted, it creates a legacy “so it is easier (for my children) to remember my service.”

“It is something that should be maintained for future generations to learn from,” Green added. “It is a piece of history.”

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