WILMORE — Betty Edwards Dickson, 88, and Bennett Dill Angelucci, 95, were young women when World War II changed their plans and their lives.
Like millions of other men and women, both stepped forward to serve their country, Angelucci in the U.S. Army, Dickson in the Navy.
On Wednesday, both women collected an armful of medals and commendations for their wartime service in ceremonies at the Thomson-Hood Veterans Center in Wilmore, where the two are full-time residents. They, like many men who served during World War II, never collected all the medals they were due when the conflict ended. It's an oversight that the Thomson-Hood Center tries to correct by doing the necessary paperwork so veterans can receive the honors they earned long ago.
Twenty other veterans of World War II, Korea and Vietnam also received medals at the center on Wednesday.
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Bennett Dill, a Vanderbilt University nurse when the war started, was soon headed overseas as part of an Army medical unit made up entirely of staffers from Vanderbilt. Among them was Dr. Ralph Angelucci, a young neurosurgeon from Lexington who became her husband after the war. Both became part of the Army's 94th Evac Hospital, serving in North Africa and Sicily.
Their daughter, Melissa Angelucci Brown, says her parents and others in the hospital unit cared for wounded soldiers, dodged air raids, even endured an eruption of Italy's Mount Vesuvius, but they still found time to find fun amid the terrors of war.
"My mother said it was almost embarrassing how much fun they had," Brown said. "She and my father told us stories that made the television show M*A*S*H sound tame."
The medals Angelucci received Wednesday included the Meritorious Unit Commendation, Women's Army Corps Service Medal, and the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with two bronze service stars.
Dickson received the World War II Victory Medal, American Campaign Medal, Discharge Button, and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin (which GIs called the "ruptured duck").
Dickson, originally from Harrodsburg, was walking home from work in Louisville when she saw a military recruiting poster of a woman in a Navy uniform, with the phrase "Imagine You In Navy Blue." Without consulting her parents, she promptly joined the WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service), and was sent to New Orleans, where the Navy assigned her to a desk job filling in for a man going on active duty overseas.
Dickson later wrote in an account of her two years of Navy service that it opened her eyes to the wider world beyond Kentucky and made her proud of having served her country.