GREENFIELD — At his 90th birthday party, Wayne Mocas proudly displayed his military medals — among them the prized Purple Heart — from World War II, honors that still conjure memories of the years spent serving his country.
But the small pieces of metal and ribbon, those tokens of battles survived in Belgium and France, were shinier, newer, than might be expected for a veteran of a war fought some 70 years ago.
That’s thanks to his son, Kent Mocas of Greenfield, who recently spent months working to have his father’s military honors — which were lost throughout the years — replaced. It was an effort that ended up honoring not only his father’s service but his older brother’s; both men recently received replacement medals but also a bit of unexpected news — they had honors waiting that they never knew the military had bestowed upon them.
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That surprise surfaced as officials with the National Personnel Records Service in St. Louis went searching for the name, Wayne Mocas. There, they found not only the elder Wayne Mocas, who fought at the Battle of the Bulge, but his son, also named Wayne Mocas, who fought in Vietnam decades later.
The elder Wayne Mocas, who now lives in Cumberland, never knew he’d been awarded a Bronze Star Medal, which is awarded to American military members distinguished by meritorious achievement or service.
And his son, a Greenfield resident, was honored with a Republic of Vietnam gallantry cross with citation — given to soldiers for heroic conduct in battle — which he didn’t know he had received until his brother began his search.
Certain military rules about what qualifies a serviceman or woman for an award have changed over the years, which can leave some veterans unaware they have been honored.
For example, the criteria to earn a Bronze Star — as the elder Wayne Mocas did — were changed after World War II, said John Hatter, director of constituent services for Rep. Luke Messer, whose office spearheaded the effort to replace the family mementos. Many veterans of World War II and earlier conflicts might have not known they earned the honor, Hatter said.
The Mocas family met with Hatter and Messer at Mayor Chuck Fewell’s office last week to transfer ownership of the Vietnam veteran’s replacement medals. The younger Wayne Mocas was awarded the National Defense Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, a Vietnam Service Medal, a Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal, a rifle badge, a Purple Heart and an Army Commendation Medal, Hatter said.
Tracking down and replacing lost service medals is no common event, and it’s a fairly involved process, said Hatter, who can recall only about a half dozen families who have made the request since Messer took office in 2012.
It starts with tracking down the serviceman or woman’s DD214, or Certificate of Release or Discharge from Active Duty, a document stored by the National Archives and Records Service.
The next step is to contact the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, Hatter said. Staff members there confirm the person’s military service and confirm what medals or commendations the person should have received. The records center then sends notification to the U.S. Army, which must authorize shipment of the medals; the medals are then shipped from Philadelphia.
Among the most prized of the father and son’s replaced medals are their matching Purple Heart awards.
The elder Wayne Mocas earned his Purple Heart because of injuries to his feet from frostbite in the trenches in France.
His son, who is now 68, shipped out to Vietnam when he was barely 20 years old and spent almost a year on the island. He was escorting a convoy when he was shot through his helmet; the bullet grazed the top of his head but left him otherwise uninjured.
“I got cleaned up, and I was back on duty the next morning,” he said. “The doctor said if it had been another quarter-inch lower, I wouldn’t be here.”
The younger Wayne Mocas spoke highly of those who worked to find both his and his father’s military honors.
“They’ve gone out of their way,” he said.