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Surrounded by family, Jeanette Theriault of Berlin received the military medals from Sen. Kelly Ayotte on Wednesday, over 60 years after her late husband, Joseph G. "Jerry" Theriault, earned them as a Marine corporal in WWII. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX PHOTO)

Medals restored to Berlin veteran's widow

BERLIN - Joseph "Jerry" Theriault was still a young man when he came home after serving as a corporal with the 5th Amphibious Corps, 4th Marine Division during assaults on the Pacific islands, but already he had the military medals of a seasoned, honorable veteran of World War II.

Born in 1924, the Berlin native was in his early 20s when the war over. On his way home, with the medals he'd earned carefully stashed in his bag, he had a stop in New Jersey. It was there, according to his widow, Jeanette Theriault of Berlin, that his duffel bag was stolen along with his medals.

Theriault died in 2011, surrounded by family. On Wednesday, Mrs. Theriault, surrounded by family, received replacements for the medals he'd earned, thanks to the efforts of her niece, Linda La-fleur, Linda's husband, Dick, and Michael Scala, Sen. Kelly Ayotte's North Country representative.

"I wish he was here to see this; this would mean a lot to him," Mrs. Theriault said before receiving the medals in a short ceremony with Sen. Ayotte and two U.S. Marines from Bravo Company, 1st Battalion, 25th Marine Regiment at the senator's Berlin office.

Theriault was awarded the Combat Action Ribbon, Navy Unity Commendation ribbon bar, Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic/Pacific Campaign Medal with one bronze campaign star and the World War II Victory medal.

The medals, U.S. Marine Maj. Jack Roma said, are "to be honorably displayed in accordance with the highest standards of the United States Military."

Theriault served during assaults on the islands of Kwajalein, Saipen, Tinian and Iwo Jima. Mrs. Theriault said that her husband was in a foxhole and a fellow Marine right next to him got hit, exploding into pieces. That, she said, really shook up her husband.

"He was there when they raised the flag (on Mount Suribachi)," Jeanette Theriault said, adding, "He used to tell his buddies 'Follow me, you won't get hurt. I've got two nuns praying for me.'"

Cpl. Theriault had two sisters who were nuns.

Linda Lafleur, sitting at her aunt's side on Wednesday, said, "For a long time my uncle wouldn't talk about the war."

Sen. Ayotte spoke briefly, noting that the legacy of the Greatest Generation "is really inspiring to all of us today."

We're only free, she said, because of the sacrifices of Theriault and others like him, who where there at such an important part of history.

"I'm sure he's looking down from a better place today," Ayotte said.

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