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LYNCHBURG, Va. — It took nearly seven decades, but on March 22, the family of Alonzo Haynes finally received the Purple Heart and Bronze Star he earned in World War II.
The infantryman was killed in action near Florence, Italy on Aug. 22, 1944.
His brother, Tollie Haynes, has spent the last three years trying to find out why his family never received the medals. Recently, the Hayneses contacted Senator Mark Warner, and on Feb. 28 received a letter stating the Bronze Star and Purple Heart were on the way.
"We broke down in tears," Tollie Haynes, of Rustburg, said.
"It means a great deal to me. I feel honored, and I thank Sen. Warner and his staff very much for helping me get these medals."
The Hayneses met with authorities at the National D-Day Memorial to receive the medals. Memorial co-president April Cheek-Messier said the site often hosts medal ceremonies, including some for past service. However, she can't remember any ceremonies for awards received so long after they were earned.
Warner's Constituent Services Director Lou Kadiri presented the family with Alonzo Haynes's Purple Heart and Bronze Star, as well as a flag that flew over the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
"It truly, truly is an honor for the senator to help you get these medals your brother earned, that he so bravely earned," Kadiri said.
Tollie Haynes took some time to memorialize his brother, remembering how the two grew up in rural Dickenson County and made their own toys.
Alonzo Haynes inspired his younger brother to join up.
Tollie Haynes said he would have enlisted at 16 years old if their mother hadn't stopped him. Alonzo Haynes' death made his brother wanted to join the military even more. He eventually served in an army medic unit.
Alonzo Haynes even had shared a premonition of his own death with his brother.
"I don't think I'll ever see Dickenson County ever again," Tollie Haynes remembered his brother saying over drinks on the last night of his final leave.
After the ceremony, Tollie Haynes laid a wreath for his brother at the memorial's Final Tribute Sculpture. The statue depicts an upright rifle topped with a helmet and wrapped with dog tags — a common grave marker for World War II soldiers.
Set in the wreath, a photo of a smiling, uniformed Alonzo Haynes flanked by the insignia of the Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
The Purple Heart is awarded to service members killed or wounded by an enemy in combat. The Bronze Star honors soldiers who "distinguish (themselves) by heroic or meritorious achievement or service . against an armed enemy; or while engaged in military operations involving conflict with an opposing armed force ." according to military criteria.
Tollie Haynes thanked authorities for presenting his family with the medals and honoring his brother's sacrifice.
"I think my brother's up there watching over me," he said.
"It touches my heart. . It's like a part of him came back."