LaMalfa helps local woman replace father's lost Navy medals

Skye Kinkade
Mount Shasta’s Wende Knight stands with Congressman Doug LaMalfa and the many medals her father earned while serving in the US Navy. LaMalfa helped Knight replace the medals after the originals were lost.

Mount Shasta’s Wende Knight was distressed after her father died in 2009 and she was unable to find 17 medals he earned while serving in the US Navy.

On Saturday, Knight posed for a photo with Congressman Doug LaMalfa, who she credits with helping her replace the medals after four frustrating years of request letters, calls, and emails to the US Navy.

“I was beginning to think I would never be able to pass the medals down to my son,” Knight said. “I’m not even a Republican, but (LaMalfa) was so helpful... he sold me on that.”

Her father, Commander Denman Knight, was a decorated airman who earned the Distinguished Flying Cross for his “heroism and extraordinary achievement” in World War II, among an array of other medals that she surmises were lost or discarded by mistake during his years living alone.

Knight said she’d been told the military will provide one set of replacement medals to the next of kin upon request. Six months after her father’s death, she wrote a letter to the Bureau of Naval Personnel’s Retired Records Section, and followed up with an email. Over the next three years, she sent emails and made phone calls, only to get no acknowledgement of her request.

“I understand that there are many people with many requests, and that the offices are overwhelmed and probably understaffed, but my requests have been met with silence and I am so discouraged and frustrated at this point that I don’t know what else to do,” Knight wrote in her June 13, 2013 letter to LaMalfa’s office. “I know that, in light of all the serious problems in the world, that this request may sound small and insignificant. But I’m sure that flying an unarmed Kingfisher under enemy fire to rescue a young American pilot, shot down in the waters of the Pacific, was a far more significant act. My father was the pilot of that Kingfisher... I hope to remember him and honor him by passing his story and medals on to his grandson. Please help me do that.”

Knight said she didn’t really expect a response, however, a few days after she dropped the letter in the mail, she received a call from LaMalfa’s caseworker, Leslie Schuessler, who “went to bat” for her.

“Within a week, I had the medals,” Knight said. “It was amazing.”

Replaced were the Distinguished Flying Cross, Air Medal, Navy Commendation Medal with Combat “V,” World War II Victory Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with one silver star and two bronze star appurtenances, China Service Medal, National Defense Medal with one bronze star appurtenance, Korean Service medal with two bronze star appurtenances, United Nations Service Medal, Combat Action Ribbon with one gold star appurtenance, Navy Expert Pistol Medal, Navy Discharge Button, Republic of Korea War Service Medal, Honorable Service Lapel Pin (Ruptured Duck), and two bronze star appurtenances for the Phillipine Liberation Medal.

She also received a copy of the commendation letter from the Secretary of the Navy, which came with the Distinguished Flying Cross in 1945.

According to the letter, the medal was given “For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight as pilot of a plane attached to the USS Miami during a rescue mission near enemy-controlled islands of the Nansei Shoto on April 12, 1945. Despite adverse weather conditions, Lieutenant Knight effected the rescue of two downed fighter pilots in a single flight and, although his plane was overcrowded, managed to return safe to his base. His skill, courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

Knight said when she was young, her father would show her the medals and always promised them to her. She now has all the medals in a display case, and plans pass them on to her 30 year old son, Dustin Balma, who is expecting his first child with his wife, Melissa, in August.