Kentucky Treasurer Todd Hollenbach returned lost medals to a Kentucky veteran's family Aug. 29 at the Capitol Rotunda in Frankfort. (David Coyle / Special to the Courier-Journal)
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FRANKFORT, KY. — A Kentucky family has regained possession of a batch of medals earned by their forebear during World War II after thinking the honors were lost to history.
State treasury officials returned the medals, pins and other lost valuables Thursday to the family of Lt. Col. Roy H. Owsley, who served in the Marine Corps in the Pacific theater from 1943 to 1945.
The veteran’s son, Bill Owsley, told The Courier-Journal he was “elated, shocked, overwhelmed and kind of amazed” to receive a call from the treasurer’s office in June.
“We just figured they were gone somewhere forever,” Bill Owsley said.
Roy Owsley passed away in 1987, and the honors were kept in a safe deposit box that was lost to the family with the death of his wife, Dorothy, in 2005. It eventually was handed over to the Kentucky state treasury and later linked to the Owsley family through Treasure Finders, an outreach program that aims to return unclaimed property to its proper owners through kytreasury.com.
Friends and family say the medals — along with pins and other lost valuables — are tangible expressions of a life lived in service, on the battlefield, in the halls of government and in the labor of community.
“It’s like we got a little piece of our father back,” Roy Owsley Jr. said. “It’s remarkable.”
Roy Owsley was twice awarded the Legion of Merit for exceptional conduct during service. He also was a major and aide to Gen. Roy Geiger and aboard the Missouri on Sept. 2 1945, when he witnessed the signing of Japan’s surrender.
During a ceremony Thursday in Frankfort, State Treasurer Todd Hollenbach listed a number of the veteran’s successes after returning to civilian life. He worked as Louisville city manager, won the Louisville “Man of the Year” award in 1962 and received the key to the city three times from two mayors.
Although the family was located in June, the medals were not physically returned until Thursday’s ceremony due to formalities in the claims process.
Included in the collection were Owsley’s Legion of Merit medals and a witness card to the surrendering of Japan along with the Marine’s oak leaves, ribbons, eagle, globe and anchor pins and other personal items from his professional work and community service.
“It’s not only the arc of the man’s life, but it really is a testament to what he gave back to people,” said Roy Owsley Jr. “It’s his entire life and career and what he worked for, and it is all right there.”
Retired Major Gen. Robert Silverthorn Jr. remembered how Owsley became a mentor and employer after Silverthorn returned from Vietnam and started studying law at the University of Louisville in the 1970s.
He said Owsley kept the honors largely to himself, and “I suspect it was out of respect for his fellow Marines who did not come home.”