It's only four pieces of paper. A fifth is known to be missing, and more could have been lost to time.
But those four existing pieces of paper Marion Andrew Deal's honorable discharge records from the U.S. Army tell a story of honor, of service to country, of dedication, of the very reason Americans observe Memorial Day.
And just one month ago, Deal's story was a secret. Not even anyone in his immediate family knew that they were related to one of Payson's most highly honored veterans. And no one knows whatever happened to his many medals and ribbons including the four Bronze Stars he earned for ground combat during World War II.
Today, "Deal," as he is known to those close to him, still doesn't like talking much about his military background. An 82-year-old resident of the Payson Care Center, he gets emotional whenever the subject is brought up.
He'll mention fleeting memories usually involving situations where he saw close friends killed, just one of which occurred during the D-Day invasion of Normandy but his mind, as if it had no choice, forces itself off the subject.
Yet Deal still has a sense of humor and a vivid memory of what he liked the most about his service years.
"Three-day passes," he says without missing a beat. "We got to go to Paris, London, all over Europe."
And what did he do for fun when he got a three-day pass?
"You don't want me to answer that," he says, recalling pleasant memories.
In service of country
Deal doesn't know whatever happened to his medals ("I was young, finally out of the Army, and always leaving things all over the place," he says), and he isn't sure why he never told anyone about them.
"We knew that he'd been in the service for a long time," says Deal's niece, Bonnie Baum of Payson, "but we didn't know about all (of his decorations) until we were trying to get him into the Payson Care Center. We had to go through all of his papers you know how it is when you start dealing with the government and we started finding these papers."
Deal's papers deeply impress two hard-to-impress local veterans: Payson's Larry Okendo, who spent 33 years in the U.S. Army and has since been appointed commander sergeant-major, and Army vet Sherman Alston, whose 18 months in Vietnam motivated him to help design, build and promote the Veterans Memorial to be unveiled in Green Valley Park Monday.
"Without a doubt, this man's been through plenty," Okendo says of Deal. "This guy's got a great background. And he landed in Europe when it was deadly, during D-Day. He's lucky he's here."
"I am very impressed," says Alston after viewing Deal's discharge papers. "He is very, very well decorated. For him to go through four campaigns and earn four Bronze Stars. Those are very high honors. That guy went through some pure hell in WWII. He was right in the middle of the worst of it. I'd say he's at least in the top 10 of Payson's most highly-decorated veterans."
Based on Deal's incomplete set of documents, his military career earned him:
Four Bronze Stars for ground combat in Europe, northern France, Normandy and Rhineland campaigns. ("Very few people get that many Bronze Stars," Okendo says. "He's a frontliner. The Bronze Star is the fourth-highest award you can get, so that's not playing around.")
Seven overseas bars. ("Seven of them," Okendo exclaims. "That's a long time. Each one of those bars represents six months overseas. He was in action for a very long time.")
A Good Conduct Medal with three loops the equivalent of four GCMs.
A "Ruptured Duck" lapel button
An American Theatre Campaign Ribbon
An American Defense Service Ribbon
A European-African-Middle East Theatre Campaign Ribbon
Deciphering the military-ese typed on the papers, Okendo also was able to divine that Deal served 20 years and four stints in the Army, spanning 20 of the 22 years from 1940 until 1962, when he received his last honorable discharge with the rank of Master Sergeant E-7. At various points during those years, Deal was a member of an anti-aircraft artillery gun crew and a rifle marksman.
Honorable service, however, was not Deal's sole personal sacrifice for his country. One of his three children, Floyd, died in Vietnam while in his early 20s.
"It happened on his first job," Baum says. "Enemy fire. He was a jumping medic. And he had requested Vietnam. I have a letter at home which he wrote to his congressman, telling him, 'I was promised (to be sent to Vietnam) and you haven't done it. I want to know why.'
"Deal never talked about Floyd's death a lot," she says. "But it took a definite toll. He said he could never understand how he could go through as many years of military service and not receive a scratch, but his son got taken."
Deal's family members weren't satisfied with simply learning about his accomplishments. They set out to replace his errant, 55-year-old decorations by Monday, so they could be re-presented to Deal by Deputy Adjutant General David Gregg Maxon at the Memorial Day ceremony to be held in Green Valley Park in conjunction with the unveiling of Payson's Veterans Memorial.
"About a month ago, my son went to the National Guard, and they sent him to Sen. John McCain's office," Baum says. "There, he was told it would take anywhere from 18 months to two years to gather these medals all together. Well, that just wasn't fast enough."
Fortunately, Baum and her son had devised an alternate plan.
"Until the medals can be officially replaced by the U.S. Army, my son bought a complete set of identical awards from a Valley military-memorabilia collector," she says. "The fellow who was selling them, an ex-Marine, said, 'I'll tell you one damn thing. You don't get all of this just for showing up.'"
Because Floyd Deal's medals also are missing, Baum and other family members are going to try to get duplicates of those, too.
"We're going to put them all in shadow boxes and hang them in my uncle's room," she says. "(They) earned them all, (they) deserve them all."
Meanwhile, Marion Deal is still very much the very model of the model American military veteran.
"He still believes you absolutely must shave every day, keep your hair just right, keep your shoes shined and your pants creased," Baum says. "They really mean it when they say once a soldier, always a soldier."
Deal is guaranteed to look every inch the professional soldier during Monday's Memorial Day event even though it will be a doubly-emotional event for him. In addition to being reunited with his decorations, his son Floyd's name is one of those inscribed on the Veteran's Memorial monument.
"He was a good soldier," Deal says, his eyes filling with tears. "Floyd was a good soldier."
Like father, like son.
Memorial Day weekend events
Sunday, 9 a.m.
Payson's annual Memorial Day ceremony, sponsored by the Payson Womans Club and Rim Country Museum, will be held near the front gate of Payson Pioneer Cemetery at the corner of Vista Road and Mesa Drive. Veterans of all service organizations will take part in the ceremony and will salute the 175 veterans who rest among the cemetery's wildflowers. An American flag will be placed on every grave.
Monday, 11 a.m.
A Memorial Day parade will begin at the Sawmill Crossing Theatres at the corner of Beeline Highway and Main Street. It will proceed west on Main Street to Green Valley Park. Arthur Stone of Star Valley, who served in World War II and Korea, and received a Silver Star, Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts, will serve as the parade's grand marshal. The announcer and judges' stand will be in front of Payson Fire Station No. 11.
Monday, 1 p.m.
The Payson Veteran's Memorial will be dedicated in Green Valley Park at the east edge of the amphitheater. U.S. Representative J.D. Hayworth will serve as the keynote speaker before the memorial is unveiled.