BOONEVILLE – Leroy Eugene “Gene” Reeves of Booneville doesn’t like to talk about the specifics of events that earned him a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and a chestful of other medals for his service during World War II.
Even though Reeves is 86, nightmares of those times still wake him up at night, leaving him screaming and thrashing around in his bed.
He is overwhelmed, though, by the love of family – a love that led them to surprise him in July with the medals, ribbons and certificates he hadn’t received when he returned from war Jan. 25, 1945.
“I just cried,” Gene Reeves said. “I couldn’t believe it and that they had kept it such a secret from me.”
Knowledge of the missing medals came to light when Reeves’ nephew, Tommy Counce, was looking at his uncle’s discharge papers.
“He noticed some of the medals were missing and asked the Army to check on them,” said Bobby Reeves of Booneville, Gene Reeves’ eldest son. Counce, a retired Army major, is active with the volunteer reserves in the Funeral Honor Guard.
Reeves had received the paperwork awarding him the Bronze Star when he was discharged, but he had never got the medal.
Bobby Reeves presented the medal to him this year during a special family event on July 2, some 67 years after he entered the Army on July 2, 1943.
“It was such an honor to be able to present it to him,” Bobby Reeves said.
Other family members at the event included son Jerry Reeves of Corinth and daughter Brenda Johnson of Booneville. Another daughter, Judy Stephens of Booneville, was unable to be there.
Gene Reeves said he might have made it through his World War II duty safely at home in the United States if he had accepted the offer to go to bakery school while he was at Fort Mead, Md.
“At first I was turned down to go overseas with a bad eye and I worked in the kitchen,” he said. “Then they found out I could shoot, and they needed the rifle expertise.”
Thus Gene Reeves embarked from Fort Patrick Henry, Va., on April 21, 1944, as a replacement troop in the 5th Army 88th Division – nicknamed the “Blue Devils.”
“We arrived in Italy that first night about 20 miles from the front lines,” reads a journal entry Gene Reeves wrote after his return from war. “On the way was rough, and sometimes it looked like my time had come.”
The Bronze Star was awarded after fighting in September 1944 in which the 5th Army sought to breach German defense of the Gothic Line in northern Italy.
“Me and three more boys got pinned down up on the mountain,” Gene Reeves said. “One stayed with me, put me up on the front of a Jeep and carried me off that hill.”
That soldier died in an attack the next day.
Those are the memories Gene Reeves hates to dredge up, and many of the accounts are being heard for the first time by Bobby Reeves, his brother and his sisters.
“It’s been a learning experience for us too,” Bobby Reeves said. “Growing up we couldn’t shoot fireworks because he had nightmares for years. We’d always have to go to a friend’s house because he couldn’t stand the racket.”
Other reminders of those years – when Gene Reeves was only 19 and 20 – generate strong emotions.
“A nephew showed me a new rifle he bought and wanted me to check it out, but I don’t look down a rifle barrel that has a scope on it. It tears me all to pieces,” Gene Reeves said.
Along with the Bronze Star, the other belated awards for Gene Reeves were the Good Conduct medal, the American Campaign medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign medal with two bronze service stars, a World War II Victory medal and a Combat Infantryman badge.
They join two Marksmanship badges in his medals memorabilia.
“I’m still here, and I’m doing fine,” Gene Reeves said. “The Lord said He’d forgive all sin, not just some sin, and He forgave me for anything that happened over there.”
Contact Lena Mitchell at (662) 287-9822 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lena Mitchell/NEMS Daily Journal