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Friday, Dec. 19, 2014

Family to receive valor medal for World War II

Thursday, March 28, 2002

SIKESTON - It isn't often the nation's second highest decoration for valor is presented nearly 60 years after the war has ended. But then, missing Distinguished Service Crosses are usually noticed a bit sooner.

On July 31, just days before the end of World War II, Winford Alvin "Wink" Evans of Sikeston earned the DSC for his extraordinary heroism during a battle near Hapao, Mountain Province, Luzon, in the Philippine Islands.

As an acting platoon sergeant in Company K, Evans led a reinforcement squad supporting a hilltop position under heavy attack from the enemy. Evans dashed 40 yards through enemy fire to drag his wounded platoon leader from a precarious position to cover. He then assumed command, organized a new perimeter and directed mortar fire on the enemy.

Wounded by an enemy mortar, Evans remained at his post until he saw a hostile machine gun crew setting up in an advantageous position. Drawing concentrated fire, Evans moved to within 25 yards of the machine gun, killed three of the enemy and silenced the position.

Returning to his men and ordering an attack, his inspired troops routed the hostile force killing 53 of the enemy soldiers.

Evans was then evacuated from Luzon for his wounds. Shortly after, the war ended. Evans was honorably discharged in November 1945 and returned to live and work in Sikeston.

The Distinguished Service Cross was fully approved, but somehow was never presented to Evans. "I'm not sure anybody knows for sure what happened," said Lt. Col. James T. "Tim" Cole, USMCR. "I don't know that he ever knew that he was processed for this award."

Cole said it appears Evans never mentioned the award to anyone and there is no record of him ever following up on it himself.

It was Cole himself who accidentally discovered the DSC while researching his namesake who had served alongside Evans in Company K.

Cole was born and raised in northwest Indiana but his roots are in parent's hometown - East Prairie. "We would travel back to East Prairie and Hickman, Ky., when I was a kid," he recalled. "As my folks would say, they would 'come back home.'"

There was a picture at his grandparents' house of his father's uncle, James Cole. He knew he and his father were named after him, but not very much more. "I knew that he had served in the Army and died during the war," said Cole.

Cole went on to serve in the military himself. As he grew older, he began to become interested in finding out more about his namesake - where he had served, in what service, how he had died.

"My curiosity began in the early '90s," said Cole. "I had just hit my 20th year in the Marine Corps Reserve."

Both being from Southeast Missouri, Cole's great-uncle and Evans became close friends during the three and a half years they served together.

When Cole died of wounds received in the battle of Luzon in January 1945, it was Evans who wrote a personal letter to Cole's family.

The letter was a comfort to the fallen soldier's mother, according to Cole. "She thought so much of that letter that she had it published in the newspaper."

During his research about his namesake's unit, Cole interviewed survivors of the 6th Infantry who assumed Evans had died. "He goes home, his unit goes to Korea," said Cole. "I don't think he ever looked back."

A year or two later while digging through Missouri archives he noticed that Evans was not on the deceased list but had been discharged. "I began to look for him again," said Cole.

Visiting the Standard Democrat, he found Evans' obituary and was able to contact his surviving relatives in the area. "I offered to help them obtain Mr. Evans' awards and other things available to honor his service in World War II as a way of saying 'thanks' for what Mr. Evans did for us years ago," Cole recalled.

As he pursued these awards for the family and continued his research, he ran across an interesting find in a book about the 6th Infantry.

"One of the books has a half page with a picture describing what he did July 31," said Cole. Yet, he noted, there was no mention of any award for his valor that day.

Evans' service records had been destroyed in a St. Louis fire, so they were unable to confirm or deny that Evans had been cited for his action.

He followed up his inquiries with Army Headquarters. "They found a general order dated December 1945 awarding him the Distinguished Service Cross," said Cole, "and we were all amazed."

The Army corrected records and amended Evans' discharge records to include all omitted awards.

The final piece will fall into place 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Imogene Ruth Albritton Mayer Center for the Arts with a special ceremony to present the Distinguished Service Cross to the Evans family.

Speaking at the presentation along with Cole will be Desert Shield-Desert Storm veteran Lt. General James C. Riley, commanding general of the Combined Arms Center and Fort Leavenworth.

Cole praised the "tremendous response of the Army" in awarding the DSC. "For a decoration of this magnitude, it definitely is appropriate."