In her effort to replace her late father’s Purple Heart, Connie Burnette got more than she bargained for.
In addition to that medal, Burnette learned that her father, Otis W. Melton, had earned seven commendations while serving in World War II.
“That was a big surprise,” Burnette said. “I didn’t know he had medals.”
With the assistance of the office of U.S. Rep. Paul Broun, Burnette discovered her father also earned a Bronze Star, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with Two Bronze Stars, the World War II Victory Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Marksman Qualification Badge and the Honorable Service lapel pin.
While researching her family history, Burnette, of Martinez, dug into the background of her father, who died in 1978. She knew he had earned a Purple Heart because she had seen it, but she couldn’t find the medal after her mother died in 1992.
Burnette enlisted Broun’s office to help replace the missing Purple Heart, and his staff contacted the National Personnel Records Center in August.
Unfortunately, there was a fire in 1973, and many of Melton’s records were destroyed, according to Meredith Griffanti, the communications director at Broun’s office.
“I was hoping I’d get a good bit of information,” Burnette said. “I’ve come to a dead stop on him.”
Broun, who presented the Purple Heart and other medals to Burnette on Oct. 16, called Melton “not only a true patriot and a brave American soldier – his Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards tell us that he was also a hero who put his life on the line for his country and his comrades.”
Melton worked on his father-in-law’s farm until he moved to Augusta to be with his wife.
In 1944, he was drafted into the Army and served two years before being wounded and honorably discharged in January 1946, Burnette said.
Burnette knows from the records that her father served in artillery in the Philippines, but not much else.
“I don’t think his war experience was something he really wanted to talk about,” she said. “I wished I had, but I didn’t ask questions.”
After receiving a letter from Broun’s office, she met at his Evans office to retrieve the Purple Heart.
Broun presented Burnette with her father’s Purple Heart and additional awards.
“I don’t think he knew he earned these medals,” Burnette said. “At least we got a surprise getting his medals. We weren’t expecting those. I was just expecting to replace his Purple Heart.”
Because so many of Melton’s records were destroyed, Burnette might never know what wartime actions earned her father so many commendations. She’s proud nonetheless.
“These tributes are both humbling and significant, but they do not even begin to tell the stories of the trials and tribulations Mr. Melton endured while defending our nation,” Broun said. “I will be forever grateful for his service, and we well always remember him as a man who put duty and loyalty to the United States above himself.”