Dooley family receives Bronze Stars 70 years later

STEUBENVILLE – John Dooley never talked much about his military service in World War II.

Like thousands of other veterans, Dooley returned home after the war, met his future wife, had a family and worked hard supporting that family.

John Dooley never shared memories of the war he fought in North Africa and Europe and the medals he had won during World War II.

His wife, Dolores Dooley, knew her husband had served in the Third Army under the command of Gen. George S. Patton.

A family story shared by John’s widow and his daughters said John was a tank commander and had landed in North Africa during the early days of World War II.

“John said his tank had broken down on the beach when Gen. Patton approached him. John was so intent on getting his tank moving again he didn’t respond with a salute when Patton approached him. The story he told us included Patton telling him to move the tank out of the way. John replied he was trying and went back to work ignoring his general,” laughed the 90-year-old Dolores.

“We never knew our father earned two Bronze Stars during the North Africa campaign. My father never talked to anyone about his battle experience. Not even my mother knew about the Bronze Stars. My dad died 19 years ago and just this year my mother, as his widow, applied for VA benefits. That’s when she learned of the medals my dad never received. He would be 96 years old if he was still alive today,” explained Joyce (Dooley) Stavick.

“My dad once took me to see the movie ‘Patton’ staring George C. Scott and he didn’t like the movie. He didn’t think Scott looked like Patton and didn’t act like Patton,” Stavick said.

Stavick said her father once told her he didn’t like orange marmalade, ” because that was all that was in the C-rations in the war.”

Stavick is an English professor at the University of North Georgia, one of six military colleges in the United States.

“I contacted military officers at the University of North Georgia who arranged for my mother to receive my dad’s military medals and retired Maj. Richard Neikirk, Lt. Col. Jason Swaim and 2nd Lt. Jason Goza took care of everything,” said Stavick.

The next step for Stavick was contacting Schelley Brooks at the Jefferson County Veterans Service Commission, who arranged for Bryan Felmet, a retired Army lieutenant colonel and president of the Veterans Service Commission, to officially award the medals to Dolores Dooley.

And so more than 70 years after the tremendous tank battles in North Africa that eventually saw the German army retreat to Europe, the Dooley family received the Bronze Stars that had been awarded to John Dooley decades ago.

“The ribbon is for serving in the Tunisian and Algieria French Morocco campaigns in North Africa. The Bronze Star is for heroism in exceptional action. I have never presented a Bronze Star to anyone before and I am deeply honored to do this today,” stated Felmet.

“My husband grew up in Idaho where he worked for the forest service. That’s where he learned to operate a bulldozer. And when he was drafted into the Army after the war started that bulldozer experience got him placed in the tank corps. He was a little over 6 feet tall and he served as the tank commander,” Dolores related.

“He would tell me a few stories about his time in North Africa but never any real details. I do know he broke his leg before he was shipped overseas. They put his leg in a cast but didn’t put any padding around the cast so he got skin ulcers. That probably saved his life because only four of the 200 men he was originally with survived the war,” Dolores said.

Dooley stayed with the 3rd Army as Patton drove his troops across Europe.

“I have been reading the book called ‘Army at Dawn’ that is about the battles in North Africa and I am amazed we won that war. Early on the Americans were losing the battles in North Africa. I don’t think we were ready for that war. But we prevailed,” declared Dolores Dooley.

After the war ended John Dooley was assigned to help transport Russian prisoners of war to Fort Dix in New Jersey.

“John was assigned to a unit with my cousin. They stopped in Pittsburgh around Labor Day and stayed overnight. I grew up in Carnegie and met John when he came to our house to see my aunt. After John was discharged from the Army he came back to Pittsburgh in October to see me and just stayed. We got married the following June. We moved to Oregon and then moved first to Weirton and then to Steubenville in 1952,” continued Dolores.

“John got a job as a foreman with Ohio Coal and we raised four daughters here in Steubenville. John loved jokes and pulling pranks on people. He was a very hard worker and a very generous man. And he had a nickname for everyone,” Dolores said.

“I know when he was finally released from the Army he was so glad it was all over. He never thought of himself as a hero. He did what he had to do and came home. And he never really talked about what happened in the war. I am so proud he received these medals. And I know he would be very proud of how his family turned out,” Dolores remarked.