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Nation replaces lost war medals

Thinking about it later, Karen Patterson knew that when she evacuated her home as Hurricane Jeanne approached in September, she didn't think through what to save.

"It all happened so fast, you couldn't think," Patterson said. Along with some necessities, she grabbed some photographs off the walls.

What she didn't retrieve were the mementos that were so old and so valuable they were stored out of sight.

When she returned to the home after the hurricane passed, it was flooded. The mementos were lost, destroyed by the water that invaded her home.

She lost wedding pictures with her late husband, John "Pat" Patterson. She lost children's photographs from when they were babies all the way through college.

She also lost her late husband's medals from World War II and the Korean War.

"I cried," Patterson said. "Once I realized what I lost, it was very depressing. It still is."

Patterson, 62, and her husband (she remarried after her husband died), Donald Nathe, still haven't been able to move back into their home in Hickory Hills. They are still working with the county, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and insurance companies to restore their property.

But she no longer has to worry about replacing her late husband's medals.

This week, U.S. Rep. Ginny Brown-Waite presented to Mrs. Patterson 12 medals her late husband earned in World War II and the Korean War. They include a Bronze Star and a Silver Star, a Legion of Merit medal as well as medals honoring his service in Europe, Africa and the Middle East.

"It is heartwarming for me to help Karen replace these treasured mementos of her late husband and help her rebuild the home that she and her husband lost in the hurricane last year," Brown-Waite said in a news release.

Mrs. Patterson wasn't even born when her late husband entered the military just before the outbreak of World War II. She was born and raised in Illinois, and Pat Patterson grew up in Oklahoma. They were born 27 years apart.

It wasn't until later in life, in 1985 when they both were living in Florida, that they met. She was divorced, having raised three children. He was a widower, having raised three children as well.

Shortly after their marriage in 1987, they moved to Dade City, where they lived until Pat's death in 1996.

During their time together, Mrs. Patterson knew how important her late husband's military memories were.

"He went to Africa, Italy, France, Germany," Mrs. Patterson said. "He sometimes talked about it. During World War II, everyone was so happy and grateful when the Americans showed up. He had great memories."

For Mrs. Patterson, a court-appointed guardian, the shock of losing valuable possessions and keepsakes eventually gave way as she tried to figure out what she could replace and how.

The medals, like many of the old family photographs, were kept safely in boxes, stored on the floor. So, of course, they were vulnerable to flooding.

"I always wanted to create a shadow box to display the medals, but it's one of those things you don't get around to," she said.

She knew that contacting her congresswoman was the best way to get replacement medals. She first made the call in late October or early November. She was pleasantly surprised at how quickly the replacement medals came. She received them Monday at Brown-Waite's Dade City office.

"These are important," Mrs. Patterson said of the medals. "The children should have these."

Mrs. Patterson resolved to create that shadow box to display the medals and keep them safe.