By Kelsey Durham
More than 70 years after he entered the U.S. Army, James Dikeman has finally been awarded the medals he earned.
The 94-year-old Little Neck resident was honored before a group of his family and friends Wednesday as U.S. Rep. Steve Israel (D-Melville) and City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) presented him with a total of nine medals, badges and buttons Dikeman earned during his time spent as an infantryman during World War II.
The most prestigious award of the group was the Purple Heart, earned by Dikeman during his tour in Tunisia, where he fought in the Battle of Kasserine Pass exactly 70 years ago to the day.
When the war ended, Dikeman returned to his home in Little Neck, found a job with the city Parks Department and raised a family. And like many other WW II veterans, his medals were never awarded to him.
Israel said he learned of Dikeman’s accomplishments last summer when he visited the veteran’s home in Deepdale Gardens, where Wednesday’s ceremony was held, to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the complex. While he was there, the congressman was told of the bravery Dikeman showed during his time overseas and vowed to secure the medals he was owed.
“I heard about this extraordinary American and we’re here today to pay a very long, overdue debt,” Israel said.
He presented Dikeman with a series of gifts, including an American flag that Israel ordered to be flown over the U.S. Capitol in Dikeman’s honor before being taken down and brought to Queens to give to him.
In addition to the Purple Heart, Dikeman was also awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the American Defense Service Medal, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Sharpshooter’s Badge, the World War II Honorable Service Lapel Button and the European-African-Middle Eastern Service Medal with two bronze service stars.
Weprin thanked Dikeman for his service and told him his military contributions were a great lesson to all generations that will come after him.
“We always talk about veterans and what they do for our country and what being free means,” he said. “This is an honor. I’m honored to be here.”
Israel also thanked Dikeman for the sacrifices he made and for “fighting to protect the flag and to defend the Constitution.”
When asked if he wanted to deliver any thoughts, Dikeman summed up his emotions with one word: “Wow.”
“It feels very good,” he said after the ceremony, with his 95-year-old brother by his side. “I really appreciate all of this.”
Dikeman was also presented with resolutions honoring his service, along with a framed copy of his Army photograph. Before the ceremony ended, Israel asked the crowd to remember that the freedoms they enjoy today are because of people like Dikeman and asked that they remember him for what he really is: a hero.
“These medals are owed as a matter of what’s right and to remind younger generations that everything they have in this country they have because of him,” Israel said. “I get to take part in democracy every single day because of this guy. That’s a real hero.”
Reach reporter Kelsey Durham at 718-260-4573 or by e-mail at email@example.com.