On Wednesday, Dawson Springs native and former prisoner of war Dudley Riley received a new pin to his already decorated vest. He was surprised with a ceremony at the Joseph “Eddie” Ballard Western Kentucky Veterans Center in Hanson, where he resides.
Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs Commissioner Brig. Gen. Benjamin F. Adams III pinned a Purple Heart to Riley’s vest.
“We’re very proud of you, sir,” Adams told Riley that day.
Riley, 95, joined the Army in August 1940 and served in the North Africa campaign of World War II. He spent two and a half years overseas before he was captured by the Germans during a battle in February 1943. For the next two and a half years, he was in a Nazi prison camp and then taken over by the Russians.
During his imprisonment with the Germans, he participated in a “death march,” which lasted for six days and totaled 120 miles in the snow. He suffered frostbite. He was released April 26, 1945.
Seventy-five years after his capture by German forces, Riley is now the proud recipient of the nation’s oldest military medal still given to soldiers.
The Kentucky Department of Veteran Affairs said in a Facebook post that “Army Staff Sergeant Dudley Riley survived combat in North Africa and wounds received during two years in a German POW camp, but never received the Purple Heart medal he earned in 1945. That oversight was corrected.”
The Purple Heart is given to military members who are injured by the opposition while serving.
“This Purple Heart means more to me than anything else,” Riley said to the crowd on Wednesday.
Kentucky Department of Veterans Affairs benefits field representative Johnny Allen collected and submitted documents to confirm the Purple Heart for Riley, KDVA said.
Riley grew up in Dawson Springs and served in various capacities at several local clubs and groups.
Riley is also the author of “Farm Boy, Soldier, Daddy – The Journey That Led Him to Where He Is Today.”
In 2004, the Kentucky 109 bridge over the Tradewater River was named for Riley.
American Legion Post 6 Honor Guard presented the nation’s colors at the ceremony for Riley on Wednesday. Gold Star and Blue Star Mother Cathy Mullins sang the National Anthem.