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Ogdensburg man gets Bronze Star - at last

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OGDENSBURG — Christmas will come a little early this year for Charles E. Lake.

Mr. Lake, of 1022 Congress St., was notified Nov. 30 that he had been recommended by the U.S. Department of the Army for the Bronze Star Medal.

Mr. Lake is 81 years old. He served in the Army in Korea from July to October 1950 as an infantryman in the 21st Regiment, 3rd Battalion, 24th Division, Company K.

The medal has yet to arrive, but Mr. Lake is happy.

“It’s the best Christmas present I ever got,” he said.

Mr. Lake, who lost his left eye and took 120 shrapnel wounds following an ambush in October 1950, was discharged the following year with the rank of corporal. He returned home and got on with his life, not really feeling too much one way or the other about the honor he had coming to him.

“I just forgot about it,” he said.

But soon Mr. Lake remembered. More than 30 years of letters, telephone calls and friends’ assistance would pass before that letter from Army Awards and Decorations Branch Assistant Chief Lt. Col. Michael A. Ries arrived last month.

And dealing with the Army bureaucracy wasn’t always productive.

“It wasn’t even in my discharge papers that I was in Korea,” Mr. Lake said. “It was just overlooked. The just kept missing my paperwork.”

He was upset.

“I put my American flag up upside down on my house for two days I was so mad,” Mr Lake said.

There was help from the past and current counselors at the state Division of Veterans’ Affairs office in Ogdensburg, Jeremiah “Pete” Havens and Thomas Robinson.

And, especially, Mr. Lake’s daughter, Debra Ann Rickett, who succumbed to cancer in 2000.

“She wanted to do that for me,” Mr. Lake said.

Then enter U.S. Rep. William L. Owens, D-Plattsburgh.

“Mr. Lake approached my office in January 2011 for help obtaining a Bronze Star from the Army,” Mr. Owens said. “The medal was awarded during the Korean War, but unforeseen bureaucratic hurdles prevented the Army from actually presenting the medal. We were successful in getting the Army to reverse their position, and I commend Mr. Lake for his service to our country.”

At last.

“I’m really happy about it,” Mr. Lake said, pausing for a moment to put everything into perspective.

“I’m not a hero,” he said. ”I’m just a survivor.”

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