ROANOKE, Va. — Monica Bennett received a medal that belonged to a man she never knew, and she got goosebumps.
She listened intently as Jim Warren described the Silver Star inscribed with the name of Ralph Printz, the U.S. Army captain who was awarded the medal in World War II.
“This is for combat valor,” explained Warren, himself a World War II veteran, now 94 years old. “That means when the guns were going off, he was living in the thick of the mud in really tough times.”
Photos: Rediscovered WW II medals get closer to home
Discovered in the bottom of a cardboard box sold at an auction a decade ago, the medals went unclaimed for years, until a combination of coincidence, a little internet research and the persistence of a dedicated old soldier got them into the right hands.
Warren also presented Bennett with a box of other military awards and decorations Printz would have worn, among them dog tags, ribbons, pins and a bronze battle star.
“Thank you for holding on to them,” Bennett said after Warren described the awards. “Thank you for bringing them to us.”
And with that, Ralph Printz’s Silver Star and other military decorations are now as close as they probably ever will be to the family of the man who earned them. Discovered in the bottom of a cardboard box sold at an auction a decade ago, the medals went unclaimed for years, until a combination of coincidence, a little internet research and the persistence of a dedicated old soldier got them into the right hands.
Printz and his wife, Beverly, died years ago, and their only child, daughter Beverly Long, died unexpectedly at the age of 63 in the summer of 2009. Beverly Long had no children, which meant there were no Printz descendants, and no one to remember Ralph Printz’s military service during World War II.
But Beverly Long had friends, none closer than her co-worker Veronica Bennett, who is Monica’s mother. Long and Veronica Bennett worked together at the Virginia Veterans Care Center in Salem, where Bennett was a nursing supervisor and Long was a registered nurse. Long, divorced and in her 50s at the time, grew close to the Bennetts and became Monica’s godmother.
Beverly Long sort of adopted Monica as the grandchild she never had, taking her to dinner at Applebee’s and Ruby Tuesday’s every week, and buying her presents every birthday and holiday. Monica called her “Grandma Bev.”
Nobody talked about the war, about Ralph Printz’s service or about his Silver Star. After Long died, the Bennetts delayed her memorial service for a week, so that they could run multiple obituaries in The Roanoke Times in hopes that one of her family members would see it and come to the service. None did.
But about the same time that Long died, her father’s medals surfaced a couple of counties away when a woman named Sharon Eubank, who lived in Campbell County, bought a box of merchandise at an auction. When she got home, she found the military paraphernalia in the bottom.
Eubank held on to the items until she and her husband moved to Friendship Retirement Community on Hershberger Road about eight years ago. Eubank served in the Navy during the Vietnam era, and she soon met Warren, who leads all of the activities for veterans living at Friendship. She figured that maybe he could find the rightful recipient of the Silver Star and all the other military decorations she had uncovered.
She asked the right man. Even at 94, Jim Warren is active in veterans work. He has earned publicity in recent years for his effort to give a commemorative ball cap to every living World War II veteran he can find. Warren, who was a member of the 167th Army Signal Corps Photo Company and served in the Philippines, has given away nearly 850 caps to World War II vets. He made it his mission to get Printz’s medals home.
Ralph Printz’s name was on the Silver Medal and the dog tags, which certainly was a key lead. Warren made calls all across the Roanoke and New River valleys looking for any Printz relatives, and he made a connection in Blacksburg, where a local librarian put him in touch with Chris Printz, a local man who she thought might be a relative.
He was not related, but incredibly, Chris Printz decided to do some internet research of his own. Within just a few days in early January, he discovered that Ralph and Beverly Printz were originally from Ohio, and that they had lived in Blacksburg and Wytheville, where Ralph owned a car dealership in the 1960s. He found the online obituaries for Beverly Printz and her daughter, Beverly Long, which included the names of Veronica and Monica Bennett, who were listed as Long’s special friends.
Chris Printz called up Veronica Bennett, who lives in south Roanoke County, and explained the whole story of how Ralph Printz’s service medals had been discovered and how she, Monica and Monica’s father, George Crockett, were probably the closest thing to a Printz family that remained.
That’s why on Thursday, Monica Bennett, who is 25 and works with at-risk youth in Greensboro, North Carolina, came to Roanoke to join her mother and father for a brief ceremony at Friendship, where Jim Warren gave them the Silver Star and other decorations before a small gathering of people.
As Warren told the story of the Silver Star’s route to Roanoke, Veronica Bennett rubbed her arm to show her goosebumps, and she wiped tears from her eyes. Monica also said she got goosebumps hearing about the father of her godmother.
None of them ever knew Ralph Printz. None of them know what act of valor earned him the Silver Star. Nobody has any idea how the medals ended up in a box at an auction. But having the Silver Star and other medals now is like having a tangible reminder of their beloved friend, Beverly Long, or “Grandma Bev,” as Monica called her.
“Bev was a hero to me,” Monica said. “It’s nice to receive such an honor for somebody who played such an important part in her life. Not only was he a hero to her, but he was a hero to all of us.”