Local World War II Veteran receives Congressional Gold Medal

Published 11:48 am Monday, July 17, 2023

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TRYON—Wesley “Bob” Bessell, a White Oak Village resident and a World War II veteran, was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal on Saturday afternoon by Congressman Chuck Edwards. Bessell, who turned 102 just a few days before the ceremony, served as a Merchant Marine from 1942 to 1945.

Attendees included Polk County Board of Commissioners Chairmen Tommy Melton, White Oak staff and Bessell’s family, who stood for the Pledge of Allegiance to begin the ceremony. 

Congressman Edwards spoke about the process for awarding the medal, which requires approval by a two-thirds majority in both houses of Congress. He then presented Bessell with several medals, including the prestigious Congressional Gold Medal.

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Bessell’s son, Michael, said, “We’re delighted. We all look up to him. After being sunk on his first trip in 1942, he’s just gone on from there to collect a lifetime of great stories. Maybe the most interesting of all is how he met my mother in Liverpool, England.” 

Bessell was married to his wife Sheila for 72 years and they have three children, four grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. 

Wendy M. Coble, senior historian with the Department of Transportation, praised Bessell’s service. 

“Not many of these veterans are left, and we want to try to honor them while we can,” said Coble. “As you heard him mention, they obviously did not get the honor they should have. So we want to do that now as much as we can. So when we find out about a veteran, especially 102, we wanted to run as quickly as possible to see them.” 

The medals awarded to Bob Bessell, including the Congressional Gold Medal, and a flag flown above the United States Capitol. (Photo by Storme Smith)

Bessell was grateful for the recognition.

“The medal was unexpected but much appreciated,” he said.

He also praised his fellow Merchant Marines, referring to himself as an “old sea pig,” and expressed his appreciation to everyone involved in the ceremony, including his family, Congressman Edwards, and his current home, White Oak Village. 

The ceremony, full of good humor and fascinating stories, was a touching tribute to a brave veteran who served his country with distinction during a pivotal moment in history.