SPRINGFIELD, Mass. — It was a solemn moment at Springfield City Hall as the family of 19-year-old Springfield Marine, Private Francis Drake, killed 77 years ago in the Battle of Guadalcanal, was presented with the Medal of Liberty.
Private Drake was killed in 1942 trying to drag an injured fellow Marine to safety. He was buried in an unmarked grave and his remains were only recently found and returned to Massachusetts.
"It means a lot. I can't put it in words. It means a lot."
Drake enlisted in the United States Marines a year before Pearl Harbor. He never made it home, but his community has not forgotten his family's sacrifice.
"He was the first Marine from Springfield to die in World War II."
The Medal of Liberty is awarded to honor the sacrifices made by the families of soldiers killed in action. Since 2009, 300 Massachusetts families have received this honor, but it's believed there are more than 10,000 more entitled to it now.
Massachusetts veterans officials are trying to find them.
"If you have a loved one deployed they really know the meaning of sacrifice. And the whole purpose of that medal is to recognize their sacrifice of their loved one, far away from home, not knowing what is happening," said Brigadier General John Driscoll, US Army National Guard.
Drake's nephew, also named Francis, proudly wears his uncle's tags. He never met Francis but he was there paying tribute and he hopes other Mass. families will soon receive the same honor.
"Those that have missing family members, don’t give up. I never thought this was going to happen. And here it is, it’s happening," Francis said.
The Mass. Military Divison believes there are thousands of families across the state eligible for the medal. To be eligible, you have to be a surviving spouse, child, parent, sibling, niece, or nephew of veterans killed in the line of duty. You can apply here.