Highly-decorated local veteran reunited with special part of his military past

Lt. General Ted Jenes receives replicas of all his ribbons and medals attached. (AP)

A highly-decorated veteran is celebrating Veterans Day with a special part of his past he never thought he’d see again.

It’s been more than 10 years since Lt. General Ted Jenes and his wife Bev had their lives forever changed when a compost bin alongside their home spontaneously combusted.

“Flames got into our cedar siding and almost before you could tell the story the house was gone,” Ted said.

It was heartbreaking. Memories of a 30-year-plus military career that took him from Korea to the Middle East, Vietnam to the Pentagon were destroyed.

Suffice it to say his uniform jacket used to have plenty of ribbons and medals.

Related: Seattle’s least-formal gathering among most anticipated for hundreds of veterans

“I miss those things, but I don’t dwell on it too much,” Ted told me as we visited Thursday at the Aegis Living Center in Shoreline.

The quiet, humble Lt. General has spent his time playing golf, studying the Bible and military history. Little did he know his own history would come back to life this Veterans Day, thanks to a chance meeting brought on by another disaster.

Retired Navy and Army veteran Ray Coffee lived across the street. When flooding severely damaged his home, he temporarily moved into an apartment at Aegis Living, where he met Ted.

It was there he heard about the fire that destroyed all of Ted’s belongings including his military decorations. And Ray set out to restore them.

Listen to the interview with KIRO Radio's Josh Kerns below. 

The first step was getting a copy of Ted’s record without him knowing it.

“And through his son, we were able to get a copy of it. And once we got a copy of that it was very easy to reorder everything that he was missing,” Coffey said.

On Thursday, Ray and several staff members invited Ted to the lobby, telling him they just wanted to talk about Veterans Day and how things were going. And they told him a reporter wanted to interview him about his service.

After sitting him down, they unveiled a large plaque with replicas of all his ribbons and medals attached. And the tears flowed.

“This is unnecessary, but thank you,” Ted told Ray.

While clearly moved, Ted accepted the medals with a humility that embodies the selflessness of the men and women who dedicate their lives to serving our country.

“But sir, you have such a distinguished career,” Ray retorted. “After reviewing your DD-2-14 (service record), wow! Sir, I am impressed. It would have been an honor to serve beneath you.”

Although informal and brief, the moment was nonetheless powerful and moving.

“I appreciate it. I sometimes think that Americans forget about all the things our service people did over the years to keep our country free and safe,” Ted said.

One person who’ll never forget is Ray. When he’s not recovering lost decorations, he plays a much larger role – heading 10th Regional Command of the United States Volunteers Join Services Command. The non-profit, all-volunteer organization does everything from placing flags on graves for Veterans Day and other holidays to performing full military funerals for every veteran whose family wants one.

Civilian volunteers are welcome to join and desperately needed to help fill the void left by the ever-growing shortage of properly trained, experienced, uniformed personnel who perform military funerals for the thousands of veterans who die every day.

The organization will be out in force this Veterans Day, placing thousands of flags on gravestones across the region, most noticeably at Seattle’s Evergreen Washelli, unofficially known as the Arlington of the west.

“In 15 minutes, we can cover 5,000 white stone markers. And it’s quite a sight to see,” Ray said. “It’s meant to recognize veterans who have served our country so honorably and put their time and life on the life to defend our freedoms that we enjoy.”

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