Walter E. Gaskin, Lt. General, USMC Ret., Secretary of the North Carolina Department of Military and Veteran Affairs (NCDMVA) honored NC World War II Veteran Pearson Riddle, JR, of Burnsville, with three medals recognizing his dedication and heroic service 77 years after he was released from Japan as a POW. During a ceremony in his hometown of Burnsville, NC, Secretary Gaskin presented Riddle, 101, with the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, and the American Campaign Medal. Mr. Riddle’s family was present for the ceremony.
“When I learned of Mr. Riddle’s heroic service to our country – and the entire world – one medal or a thousand medals would not be enough to ever repay him for the many sacrifices he has made,” said Gaskin, “The value of what he has done could not ever be truly quantified or overstated. It is our hope that today’s event will somehow bring Mr. Riddle feelings of joy, accomplishment, and pride!”
Riddle is the last surviving member of the Battle of Wake Island. He was a member of the Civilian Conservation Corps assigned to Wake Island in the Pacific to build air bases and help with other defense projects, including hauling sandbags and water for gun emplacements. Riddle was among the civilian contractors and U.S. Marines who were captured on December 23, 1941, when Japanese forces overtook Wake Island. They stripped him and other POWs and forced them to march in only underwear and shoes and stay in barracks on the island until February 13, 1942, when they were shipped to a labor camp in Woosung, China. He spent 19 months leveling the land and carrying rocks from sunup to sundown. He describes being forced to live in lice, flea, and bed bug infested bedding and clothing, receiving only a cup of gruel daily, and receiving and witnessing relentless beatings and punishments to his fellow POWs, having his hands and feet frozen. In 1943, the Japanese military shipped Riddle to Kobe, Japan, and then later to Kawasaki, near Tokyo, Japan. He worked there in a steel mill until March 1945. Then Riddle was sent to northern Japan to work in an open mine. In September 1945, Riddle and other POWs were finally released and returned to the U.S.
“You cannot unsee or unhear the experiences of war. Mr. Riddle, your mind and heart are a treasure of our history, – those of us who have been in combat can understand all too well – and others can only imagine,” Gaskin said. “We must also acknowledge the dedication and sacrifices of the family members who stood confident through uncertainty and separation during your service to our nation – and the years following your return. Thank you, Mr. Riddle, and your family for your bravery, valor, and service for our state, nation, and the entire world. This is the very foundation that is the true representation of America.”
In 1987, the Navy administratively awarded Riddle the rank of E4 and evaluated him as a 100% wartime service-connected disabled veteran.
To view and use photos of the ceremony held on December 29, 2022, visit this link: https://flic.kr/s/aHBqjAm2ba.
Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal – Established by Executive Order 9265, November 6, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. It was awarded to all military personnel for service in the Pacific Theater between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946.
World War II Victory Medal – Established by an Act of Congress on July 6, 1945 (Public Law 135, 79th Congress) and promulgated by Section V, War Department Bulletin 12, 1945. It was awarded to all military personnel for service between December 7, 1941, and December 31, 1946.
American Campaign Medal – Established per Executive Order 9265, dated November 6, 1942, by President Franklin D. Roosevelt and announced in War Department Bulletin 56, 1942.
The Digital Collections of The National WWII Museum in New Orleans, LA featured Pearson Riddle, JR in its collections. To view his story in his own words, please visit https://www.ww2online.org/view/pearson-riddle#working-for-the-ccc-and-going-to-wake-island.
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