Many World War II veterans rarely shared their experiences with family and friends once the war ended. Most servicemen returned home to find work and start families while trying to continue on with their lives. Few sought acknowledgement or applause for their contributions.
Such was the case with the late Frank Joseph Oliver, who was posthumously awarded the Purple Heart and other awards during a special medal ceremony held at U.S. Sen. Jack Reed’s office on Aug. 1.
Born in Cranston and a longtime resident of Warwick, Oliver served aboard the Navy destroyer escort USS Eversole as a torpedoman 2nd class after joining the U.S. Navy Reserves in July 1943 at the age of 24.
Early on the morning of Oct. 28, 1944, during the Battle of Leyte Gulf and only seven months after the Eversole was commissioned, the ship suffered two torpedo hits from a Japanese submarine. The escort soon sank, and nearly all of her crew were either killed or wounded.
“My father had a laceration on his head from hitting a locker when he was knocked out of bed, resulting in a scar he had his entire life. He also had a blast injury in his abdomen from the explosion, as well as an ankle injury,” said Oliver’s daughter, Linda Oliver Hughes.
Oliver passed away May 13, 2013, and was buried at the Rhode Island Veterans Memorial Cemetery. The family knew he received the Purple Heart, and wanted to have this designation placed on his headstone. However, they had no official documentation of the award, and the cemetery needed more information before placing the designation.
Hughes attempted to contact the National Archives for additional records, but her search was unsuccessful. She then turned to Reed’s office for assistance.
“I have to say Sen. Reed’s office went above and beyond for us,” Hughes said. “I told them of our predicament, and within a couple of weeks I received a two-inch-thick packet of my father’s records that I never knew about, and that he never spoke of.”
Once the family received the official documents, they had the Purple Heart designation placed on the headstone. The senator’s office then asked if the family would be interested in having a medal ceremony, as the search uncovered multiple other medals Oliver had earned but not been awarded. The family agreed.
At the ceremony, Reed expressed his appreciation for Oliver’s actions during the war.
“This is a great privilege for me to recognize the service of this outstanding American,” the senator said. “Today we recognize the fact that he was wounded in the service of his country, which is a great demonstration of service, sacrifice and dedication.”
The family was then presented with Oliver’s Purple Heart, the Navy Good Conduct Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with two Bronze Stars, the Navy Discharge Button and the Honorable Service Lapel Pin.
“My father was very proud of his service. He was especially proud at the end of his life, when he finally started talking to us about it, which he never had done before.” said Frank Oliver Jr., who accepted the awards and spoke on behalf of the family.
Oliver’s memorial flag is housed in a shadow box, which the family plans to consolidate along with the medals into a display case. Eventually, they will be passed on to future generations.
Frank Oliver owned Oliver's Service Station on Elmwood Avenue in Cranston, which he operated for 42 years. He was married to the late Mari F. (Sanzi) Oliver for 61 years. They had five children, 11 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. He was 94.