105-year-old veteran awarded Congressional Gold Medal for service in WWII

WHITEHALL, Wis. (WEAU/Gray News) - A 105-year-old veteran in Wisconsin is being recognized for his service to the United States during World War II.

Friends, family and fellow veterans filled the Whitehall High School auditorium Monday to witness Reynolds Tomter be awarded a Congressional Gold Medal.

Tomter was a member of the U.S. Merchant Marines when he served in WWII and was responsible for delivering cargo across the Atlantic to Allied Forces that were fighting in Europe, according to WEAU.

During the war, more than 9,000 Merchant Mariners lost their lives while transporting supplies and reinforcements overseas, which was a higher proportion than those killed in any military branch in WWII.

Despite those sacrifices, Capt. Chris Edyvean said it took many years for the U.S. government to recognize the work that was done by the Merchant Marines.

“Franklin D. Roosevelt, when he signed the G.I. Bill, he had it on his radar to extend similar benefits to the United States Merchant Marines,” Edyvean said. “That never happened, and he passed away, and it kind of got swept under the rug.”

Merchant Marines were finally given veteran status in 1988, and a Congressional Gold Medal Act to honor Merchant Mariners was signed in 2020.

Even though it took decades, Tomter said he is happy he and his fellow Merchant Marines are being acknowledged for their service.

“Not getting recognized, not until 1988, that hurt a little bit,” Tomter said. “But, this medal is the payoff, and it’s never too late, so I’m very happy about the whole affair.”

For Edyvean, who’s a current Merchant Marine, he’s proud to see someone who served in the same branch be honored in such a meaningful way.

In the end, Tomter was glad to share the moment with the Pigeon Falls, Wisconsin, community.

“Everybody in the Midwest are good friends, good neighbors, we love each other,” Tomter said. “That’s the payoff, the show of appreciation.”

Tomter also received international recognition at Monday’s ceremony, being awarded the Nova Scotion/Norwegian Convoy Cup and the Norwegian Liberation Medal.

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Alex Loroff

Alex Loroff

Alex is the La Crosse bureau reporter for WEAU 13 News.