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News Community World War I Medal comes home

WWI veteran’s family receives special North Carolina service medal

Over the recent Memorial Day weekend, one Macon County family received special recognition in honor of its patriarch and World War I veteran, the late Harry Pinkerton Rowland. In a small ceremony on Tuesday, May 31, at the Macon County Veterans Memorial Park, a rare service medal crafted specifically for WWI veterans from North Carolina was presented to Rowland’s family.

Three generations of Rowland’s descendents attended the ceremony, along with a number of local and state representatives. Rowland’s granddaughter, Kathy Palmer Orr, noted that had Rowland still been living, it would have been his 117th birthday.

WWI veteran’s family receives special North Carolina service medal

Boyce Deitz, a field representative from the office of U.S. Congressman Heath Shuler, and Ron Putnam, a regional Veterans Service officer from Murphy, presented the medal. Rowland’s daughter, Shirley Rowland Palmer, and his son, Harry Philip Rowland, accepted the medal on his behalf. The family was also presented with a national flag which has flown over the capital in Washington, D.C..

According to Putnam, the medal is one of only six undistributed decorations of its kind known to still exist. An unknown number of the service medals had been minted in the 1920s to honor North Carolinian veterans of WWI. The medals had been distributed to Veterans Service offices around the state to be handed out to the state’s veterans, but many remained unclaimed. Those unclaimed medals often sat for decades in state property desks in various districts, forgotten among the paper clips and yellowed paperwork, Putnam explained.

Harry Pinkerton RowlandThe medal given to the Rowland family was actually found by Putnam in the Murphy office when he became a State Service Officer in January of this year. He was going to send it to the state director of Veterans Services to be kept with the few remaining medals that have been found, but then Rep. Shuler’s office called him to ask if it could be presented to a special family of a WWI veteran in Macon County.

This was actually the second medal that Putnam had discovered. He had also found one when working in the Haywood County office. The decision was made to bestow that one on a local 103-year-old widow of a WWI veteran. It was after hearing news of that honor that Palmer had contacted Rep. Shuler’s office to see if a medal was available for her father.

“There’s a few left, but they’re guarded fiercely,” Putnam said of the remaining medals. The state policy now is to save the remaining medals to honor any surviving widows of WWI veterans that may still be found, he noted. However, officials from Shuler’s office convinced the state officials that Rowland was especially deserving, particularly in light of the fact that he had never been recognized for his sacrifice as a soldier wounded in battle, and obtaining a Purple Heart for him at this point would probably be impossible.

“I thought it was such an honor to get this for my daddy,” said Palmer of receiving the medal. Palmer is the author of an article on her father that appears in Volume Two of the Macon County Historical Society’s “Heritage of Macon County.”

Rowland served in France during WWI, where he was wounded in the leg with a piece of shrapnel. After recovering in a hospital in New York, Rowland returned to the South, where two days after being released, he was married to Nannie Parrish. The couple then traveled to Macon, Ga., where Rowland entered an automotive mechanics school with support from the government through a program which was the forerunner of the Veterans Education Program and the G.I. Bill.

The couple ultimately returned to Macon County, where both of them had been born and raised. Rowland and his wife had 10 children.

Front row (L-R) Kathy Orr, Daylon Plemens, Ron Putnam, Shirley Palmer, Harry Phillip Rowland, Keith Rowland, Nadine Rowland and Janet Rowland; back row, Boyce Deitz, Robert Holland, Harrison Orr, Marci Holland, Marty Rowland and Seth Rowland.At the start of World War II, her father had tried to return to the military and volunteered to serve again, Palmer noted. He passed his physical but was then told that he had two many dependents (at that point he had six children).

Palmer was only 10 when her father was killed in a car accident on Bryson City Road in 1942, but she still has fond memories of him. She recalls that he was a very patriotic man, and she remembers listening to Walter Winchell on the radio with him. “I just loved my daddy,” she said.

According to Deitz, it was not uncommon for veterans of the era to never collect the medals and awards they had earned. “A lot of these fellows when they came home, if they had waited around a few days they would have gotten their medals,” Boyce explained. “But a lot of them really weren’t interested in medals. He probably just said, ‘I'm going home, I'm going back to Franklin.’”

Deitz noted with irony that Rowland died fulfilling another patriotic duty: voting. Rowland died on Election Day in 1942. He was returning to Franklin from Fontana where he worked on the reservoir when he got in the accident on Hwy. 28. He was going to vote.

For Deitz, honoring and serving the state’s veterans is a one of the his favorite parts of the job. “It’s really rewarding to be able to honor these people with things like this,” he said.

“It just all worked out for them,” said Putnam of the happy coincidence of discovering the medal just before Shuler's office called to see if one could be found for Rowland.

Though tattered and tarnished from its years of lying in the bottom of a desk drawer, Palmer said the medal was an important honor for her and her family. Her brother, Harry Rowland, will keep the medal for the family, she said. The flag was given to Rowland’s great-grandson, Keith Rowland, a veteran who served in Iraq after his National Guard unit was mobilized during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

Other officials who attended the ceremony included Macon County Commissioner Ronnie Beale, Daylon Plemens of the Macon County Veterans Service Office and Sheriff Robbie Holland, whose wife Marci is also a greatgrandaughter of Harry Rowland.

Plemens office can be contacted at (828)349-2196 for all veterans issues. Congressman Shuler’s special liaison for veterans issues can be contacted at (828)252-1651.


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