Family gets medals of soldier killed in World War II
LYNCHBURG—It took nearly seven decades, but on March 22, the Virginia family of Alonzo Haynes finally received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star he earned in World War II.
The infantryman, who has some relatives in the Fredericksburg area, was killed in action near Florence, Italy, on Aug. 22, 1944.
His brother, Tollie Haynes of Rustburg, has spent the past three years trying to find out why his family never received the medals. Recently, the Hayneses contacted Sen. Mark Warner, and on Feb. 28 received a letter stating the Bronze Star and Purple Heart were on the way.
“We broke down in tears,” Tollie Haynes said. “It means a great deal to me I feel honored, and I thank Sen. Warner and his staff very much for helping me get these medals.”
The Hayneses met with officials at the National D–Day Memorial in Bedford to receive the medals. Memorial co-president April Cheek–Messier said the site often hosts medal ceremonies, including some for past service. However, she can’t remember any ceremonies for awards received so long after they were earned.
Warner’s Constituent Services Director Lou Kadiri presented the family with Alonzo Haynes’s Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
“It truly, truly is an honor for the senator to help you get these medals your brother earned, that he so bravely earned,” Kadiri said.
Tollie Haynes took some time to memorialize his brother, remembering how the two grew up in rural Dickenson County and made their own toys.
Alonzo Haynes inspired his younger brother to join up.
Tollie Haynes said he would have enlisted at 16 years old if their mother hadn’t stopped him. Alonzo Haynes’ death made his brother want to join the military even more. He eventually served in an Army medic unit.
Alonzo Haynes even had shared a premonition of his own death with his brother.
“I don’t think I’ll ever see Dickenson County ever again,” Tollie Haynes remembered his brother saying over drinks on the last night of his final leave.
Carl Haynes, Alonzo Haynes’ nephew, lives in Chatham Heights in southern Stafford County.
Carl, 58, his wife, Robin, and two grown sons, Austin and Nathan, were unable to attend the ceremony in Bedford, he says, because there was little advance notice.
But he was thrilled to hear his uncle’s service and sacrifice was finally recognized.
“It took three years, but [the medals] finally came through,” Carl said.
“I feel like he [Tollie Haynes] got a piece of my uncle back.”
Carl said Alonzo and 17 siblings grew up in a three-room house in Dickenson County in southwestern Virginia. Alonzo’s cousin, Ralph Haynes, was killed in Normandy that same year.
Carl recalled in a recent interview that his grandfather, Russell, told the family that when he went to Abingdon in 1944 to pick up Alonzo’s body from the train for burial, no one from the military was there to meet him, or to offer condolences.
“The medals, they should have been with [Alonzo] when he was buried,” Carl said.
Carl’s brother, Russell, lives in Orange County, and their sister, Cathy Baker, lives in Lorton in Northern Virginia.
After the Bedford ceremony, Tollie Haynes laid a wreath for his brother at the memorial’s Final Tribute Sculpture. The statue depicts an upright rifle topped with a helmet and wrapped with dog tags—a common grave marker for World War II soldiers.
Set in the wreath, a photo of a smiling, uniformed Alonzo Haynes flanked by the insignia of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
The Purple Heart is awarded to service members killed or wounded by an enemy in combat. The Bronze Star honors soldiers who “distinguish [themselves] by heroic or meritorious achievement or service against an armed enemy; or while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing armed force,” according to military criteria.
Tollie Haynes thanked the D–Day Memorial officials for presenting his family with the medals and honoring his brother’s sacrifice.
“I think my brother’s up there watching over me,” he said. “It touches my heart. It’s like a part of him came back.”