Did World War II Soldiers Collect Religious Medals?

4/30/2012 • Ask Mr. History

I am looking for any help in identifying medals found amidst my father’s WWII memorabilia.

The medals are all religious, appear to be brass and vary from Italian to German. Most in Latin—some depicting the Blessed Virgin Mary, others St. John, Protestor in War, and Jesus.

My Dad was in the infantry with the Army from June of ’41 to his discharge in Oct. ’45—the entire tour of duty in the European Theater.

Do you know of other soldiers “collecting” religious medals during the war? Could they have come from fallen soldiers? They look like they could have been sewn to a uniform and some appear very worn, others quite vivid in their images, with words in Latin and in German. How do I research these and their history? I have tried to find religious medals like these on line and other information on line regarding these items but to no avail. Could they have come from the home churches the soldiers belonged to?

Thank you for any help you can provide.

Rosina Janowek

My father—Frank P. Bruno, Sgt. U.S. Army, from Joliet, Ill.

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Dear Mrs. Janowak,

Since religious medals, as far as I know, were items acquired by the serviceman on his own initiative, either from home, his local church or from the chaplain—but not officially from the military—I can only speculate on how your father accumulated that potpourri. I shudder to think that they may have been taken from soldiers—either comrades or enemy—who “wouldn’t need them anymore," or that the German ones were looted, but for want of his having described their provenance, it would be anybody’s guess. The best advice I could give might be to find out what church he attended in Joliet, Illinois, and if it is still there, contact someone there who just might recognize one or more of those medals as being from that parish. If you’re lucky, such an aficionado might even be able to trace the others as well.

Mazel tov,


Jon Guttman
Research Director
World History Group
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