A World War II veteran received the Congressional Gold Medal on Friday, the highest honor bestowed by the U.S. Congress.
As part of its Veteran’s Day celebration, Able Seaman Joseph Kolis Sr. was presented the medal during a ceremony held at The Villas Senior Care Community in Sherman.
Kolis, a lifelong Springfield resident, began his military service as a Merchant Marine in November 1943. He took part in dozens of voyages delivering troops and supplies in the Mediterranean, Atlantic, and Pacific theaters.
According to the National War Museum, more than 243,000 mariners served in the war, but they were not recognized as veterans until 1988 − finally allowing them to receive full GI Bill benefits. It wasn’t until March 2020 that mariners like Kolis could receive the Congressional Gold Medal.
“We waited 77 years for recognition and now we have it,” said Kolis, who turns 99 next month.
Kolis’ time in service included the delivery of materials onto the beach of Southern France, during the Invasion of Southern France also known as Little D-Day. There, his boat beached itself and was stuck for three days. He would later transport German prisoners of war to North Africa.
In the Pacific theater, Kolis would go to Pearl Harbor and then through several war-torn islands before arriving at Iwo Jima. At that battle, considered by historians as one of the most gruesome fights of the war, his ship delivered a group of specialized U.S. Marines onto the beach.
Before the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, his unit sailed from Baltimore to Italy to pick up supplies in preparation for a land invasion of Japan. From there, he traversed through the Panama Canal and onto the Philippines.
The atomic bombs prompted the Japanese surrender. Kolis would later return to Baltimore and his service concluded in February 1946.
He was joined at the ceremony by his son, Joseph Kolis, Jr., and other family members. U.S. Rep. Nikki Budzinski, D-Springfield, presented the medal.
“Today is about honoring the service, the sacrifice that men and women that wear our uniform and fight for our freedoms,” said Budzinski, the granddaughter of two World War II veterans.
She has spent the past week in her district, hosting several town halls with veterans, but will return to Washington on Monday.
There, she and other members of Congress will try to avert a federal shutdown. Now being led by new House Speaker Mike Johnson, Nov. 17 is the final day before a temporary measure to keep funding federal operations will expire.
Military personnel would not be paid during a shutdown but would receive back pay. Budzinski, who serves on the House Veterans Affairs Committee, said she is concerned about how veterans relying on services from the VA will be affected.
“One of the bigger challenges at the VA is that they have a lot of labor shortages,” she said. “During a government shutdown, we can’t fill any of those positions, we can’t train or re-train workers at the VA.”
A shutdown would impact federal employees across the country, some of whom will be furloughed, and others could be forced to work without pay. An estimated 7,200 civilians in Illinois Congressional District 13, where Budzinski serves, were employed by the federal government as of 2022 according to the Congressional Research Service.
Kolis joins Carlinville resident and World War II Flying Tiger Stephen J. Bonner and Rochester’s Ivan Maras among the area’s Congressional Gold Medal recipients. The honor has been awarded since the American Revolution and “recognizes those whose dedication, heroism and public service have created a lasting impact on American history.”
Contact Patrick M. Keck: 312-549-9340, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/@pkeckreporter.