A former Opheim resident and World War II veteran was honored with a recognition ceremony last week in Billings. Ninety-year-old Ted Dolney, who spent 27 months in a German concentration camp where he was beaten with rifles, forced to work on the railroad in wooden shoes and watched the dead, frozen bodies of his comrades tossed on a heap like rag dolls, has gotten his rewards.
After nearly 70 years, Dolney finally received seven medals. The medals include the the prestigious Bronze Star, which is awarded to any person who, while serving in U.S. Army after Dec. 6, 1941, distinguished himself or herself by heroic service. He also received the European-African-Middle-Eastern Campaign medal with four Bronze Service stars, American Defense Service medal, World War II Victory medal, Combat Infantryman Badge First award, Good Conduct medal and the Honorable Service lapel button.
Dolney hadn’t received the medals because of a fire at the National Personnel Records center in St. Louis on July 12, 1973, when 16 to 18 million official military personnel files were destroyed.
Working with Dolney’s family, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., reconstructed his service history and secured Dolney’s medals from the military. The medals were presented to Dolney during a ceremony in Tester’s Billings office.
Dolney was a prisoner of war in Nazi Germany between 1943 and 1945. He is now blind, which his wife of 50 years, Darlene, blames on the malnutrition he suffered in the prison camps. She faults his lengthy ordeal for the stroke that he suffered in October 2010 that left him in a wheelchair.
He had some “good years” after his release, but it wasn’t long before the residual effects of his imprisonment began to manifest. His speech is slow, measured and impaired. Dolney is a very humble man and would rather not have all the attention he’s getting, but he said, “It makes a difference to me.”
Darlene is a feisty, mighty force and Dolney’s chief advocate. She got the ball rolling to ensure that her husband got the recognition he deserved.
“When it comes to Ted, I will fight tooth and nail,” she said. “It means a lot because I know what he went through. The fact he had no food, no heat and sometimes no clothes ... and he’s never told me all of it.”
American prisoners smuggled a radio into their camps and heard reports about the invasion of Normandy in June 1944. After Germany’s surrender in 1945, the Nazi guards fled Dolney’s prison camp. He and other prisoners left on foot to find help. After walking several days, they finally encountered American soldiers and were sent home as heroes.
Dolney’s medals will be framed and kept in a “place of honor” in the family’s Billings Heights home. A Quilt of Valor from his home state of South Dakota is also being stitched for him.
When the Dolneys lived in Opheim, they owned and operated the Homestead Hotel and Café. They spent 13 years in Opheim, from May 30, 1990, until May 30, 2003. Ted had started to lose his eyesight while they lived in Opheim.
When this reporter visited with Darlene about this article, she said that her husband was in the hospital with pneumonia. We all wish him a speedy recovery.