When the country was gripped by the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962, Bill Rutherford was 18 and had just graduated from high school. With the military draft in place, he knew he had three options: wait to be drafted into the Army, enlist into the military or run off to Canada as a "draft dodger."
"I never was a coward, so I enlisted into the United States Navy,"
During the winter of 1962-63, Rutherford served aboard the USS
Bristol (DD-857), which was patrolling off the coast of Cuba, and
earned two medals in the process.
When he was honorably discharged from the Navy, Rutherford didn't
get his medals, which he attributes to the personnel officer aboard
the USS Bristol not taking time to request them. He thought he'd
never receive them.
When Rutherford retired to Monticello in 2005, he joined the
Veterans of Foreign Wars in Somerset (Mill Springs Post 269) as well
as the Disabled American Veterans in Monticello. In 2010, he became
the VFW's Judge Advocate. Among his responsibilities was reviewing
the applications of people wanting to join the VFW.
"While reviewing one of those applications, I accidentally found out
how to request ‘replacement medals,'" Rutherford recalled. "These
medals are the same medals that were earned by the veteran while
serving on active duty in a war zone."
So 44 years after he was discharged, Rutherford finally received his
National Defense Service Medal and Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal.
He then got his father's medals. However, he wasn't done.
"I knew that since I had not known how to get my medals, there are
probably other veterans that would not know how to get their missing
medals," Rutherford stated. "I believe that God put it in my heart to
help those veterans and the next of kin of decease veterans."
Inspired by Deuteronomy 15:10, Rutherford began a ministry of sorts
to help veterans apply for their medals at no charge. The medals
themselves are also free. To spread the word, he has posted community
service announcements in various newspapers as well as visits
churches within a five-county area of southeastern Kentucky.
Rutherford, however, attends his own church at least once a month
per his agreement with Pastor Dewey Burks of Fall Creek Baptist
Church. His ministry is sponsored by VFW Post 269 and he also works
directly with the Veterans Service Officer with Monticello's DAV.
In addition to medals and discharge papers (DD-214), Rutherford also
assists with finding shelter for homeless veterans, locating
transportation to medical facilities, obtaining bronze grave markers,
etc. In the nine years he's been doing so, Rutherford has helped
veterans and families not only in this region but as far away as
Ohio, Florida and Colorado.
Any military veteran or family member of a deceased veteran may
contact Rutherford by phone at 606-340-3142 or by mail at 20 Robin Lane, Monticello, KY 42633.