Nearly 75 years after his death in WWII, Nebraskan man finally recognized for his service

August 8, 2018

Robert Powell Sr. never really knew his father.

When Powell was only two, his father, Army Pvt. Lester E. Powell of Powell, Nebraska, was busy racing across France with Gen. George Patton’s Third Army, as the Allied forces continued their fight against Nazi Germany in 1944. Powell belonged to Company C of the First Battalion, 317th regiment.

But then around that time, Lester Powell’s wife, Mildred, received worrying news.

Her husband was missing in action.

Then in February of 1945, a more devastating notification arrived.

Lester Powell had been killed in action in Luxembourg on Dec. 26, 1944, engaged in fierce combat in the Battle of the Bulge. He was 27.

A memorial service was held in Alexandria, Nebraska, in April 1945.

It seems like the story would end there, but nearly 75 years later on Wednesday, the next chapter was written in Powell’s heroic tale.

At the American Legion Post #27 in Beatrice, Lester Powell was awarded his service medals and badges posthumously, with his son Robert Powell standing in his place.

U.S. Sen. Deb Fischer was present Wednesday morning to bestow the medals and honors - a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Good Conduct medal, European-African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Infantryman’s Badge.

“It took about a year to get them all together,” said Robert Powell, who was accompanied by his children and family.

Last year, Powell said he was approached by Jim Barr of the of the Liberty Legion Club about collecting his father’s awards.

“Jim Barr got the ball rolling,” he said.

Then with the help of Phil Dittbrenner with the Gage County Veterans’ Service Office, records were collected and a case opened with Fischer’s office.

But the process wasn’t easy.

A fire in 1973 at a Kansas City records facility wiped out much of the region’s personnel records pre-1970, making it tough to nail down Lester Powell’s service history decades later.

“When a family reaches out about their medals, it can be a lengthy process,” Fischer said.

Wednesday’s ceremony began with the posting of the colors, followed by brief speeches from Fischer and Robert Powell.

Fischer said the medals and badges “will be a lasting reminder of Pvt. Powell’s memory, his service and the sacrifice of his family.”

“It shows care,” said Robert Powell about the ceremony.

His father, Lester Powell, was born on March 28, 1917, in Powell, Nebraska. He had two brothers, Jerald and Ray Dean Powell. Jerald Powell was killed in World War II as well, when a plane crashed flying from New York to New Jersey in 1943. The body was never found.

Ray Dean Powell died from injuries received during the war after he had returned home.

Lester Powell lived on a family farm and married Mildred Frades on June 24, 1940. They had three children, Jerry Lee Powell, Robert Powell and Sharon Elaine Powell. He was inducted in to the war in May of 1944.

Asked what he will do with father’s medals and badges, Robert Powell said they will be put in a special place.

“I thought I’d get a plaque,” he simply put.

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