It's bronze and octagonal, with a green, white and blue ribbon. The face is decorated with a set of half-armor, flags, and cannon. A rattlesnake banner curves across the top bearing the legend "This we'll defend."
The back simply says, "For Military Achievement."
I spotted it in a garbage dump, surrounded by the rotting contents of a refrigerator, some broken tools, and discarded, worn-out military web gear of the kind many people use while hunting.
Rescuing that medal was an experience I won't describe here, save to say I needed a shower when I got home. But some things are worth risking an incurable disease.
To me, that symbol of someone's dedication and sacrifice to his country was worth whatever illness might have befallen me.
Not knowing what the decoration meant, I called my friend Larry Hammond, director of all things election and veteran-oriented in our county. Brother Larry hasn't failed me yet when I've asked him for information, and this time was no exception.
The medal isn't very unusual, but it isn't something the military throws around like candy, either. The recipient didn't necessarily storm an enemy stronghold, or shoot down a fighter plane, or do anything that would even justify a telephone call to his hometown newspaper.
All he did, according to the information about this medal, was perform his job well, in a way his superiors recognized to be the true spirit of the American warrior.
"It belonged to someone who did something important for his country," Brother Larry said.
But yet this medal had been cast aside, thrown into a bin of dirty diapers and rotting food.
It's been my privilege to know a lot of veterans, from my beloved old Mr. Jimmy, a Doughboy I've written about before, to veterans of the current conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq. One of my breakfast companions is another friend named Larry, a World War II vet. His eyes mist slightly when he mentions his two brothers who died in that war.
I can't tell you how many folks I know who served their country, but any of them could have gotten this medal.
I know a few veterans, of course, who take pride in their service, but don't like being recognized; one goes so far as to sneer at others who received awards and lets his feelings be known. Some vets never miss the chance to tell how they got their decorations. Most, however, are quietly modest about their accomplishments.
I couldn't pass the physical to join the military. Nor was my father able to serve, although Papa's father and most of my uncles did.
Their duties ranged from feeding the boilers of a destroyer during the Cuban Missile Crisis to firing a twin .50 caliber machine gun out of the tail of a Mitchell bomber over North Africa.
Another uncle was a master administrator before, during, and after Vietnam. Another "adopted" uncle was so disturbed by what he saw in Vietnam that he turned the military into a career, teaching soldiers how to survive. He was always willing to share his woodscraft, but he never, ever talked about how he learned those skills
Grandfather Weaver, Papa's father, was a tanker in World War I. He was much younger than I am now when died in 1919, after coming home from Europe.
Having survived gas attacks, wounds from shrapnel and German bullets, and having a tank melt around him, he was run over by a street car on the way to a veteran's meeting.
But each of them was, as my breakfast friend Larry said, an American who served. They did it for their country-a country that was sometimes ungrateful-and they did their jobs well.
As did the unknown veteran whose medal was cast off in the garbage.
I never got to meet my Grandfather Weaver, although our handwriting is eerily, strikingly similar. Papa remembered his uniforms and medals. I do have several photographs of Sgt. W. Thomas Weaver II when he was home on leave before going to Europe.
One of those images is a formal portrait in the classic early 20th century style, and you can barely make out the service ribbons on his tunic. I've never seen his medals, but I have seen the smile on his face-my Old Man inherited it.
It's a smile of someone quietly pleased at a job well done. Sometimes it was the only indicator Papa gave of being pleased, but that smile meant so much to me, since I knew he was proud-of his own work, or mine.
Grandfather never got the chance to rear his children, so Papa was raised by "Mr. W.T.", my great-grandfather. If Mr. W.T. raised Grandfather like he raised my Papa, I'm sure there was a military achievement medal or something like it in there somewhere.
If nothing else, that little satisfied smile would tell me Grandfather knew he'd done something good for his county, even if he wouldn't brag about it.
Which brings me back to the discarded medal in the dumpster.
Was the recipient embarrassed? Did he not care? Did he get the medal undeservingly, thanks to someone else's work or sacrifice?
Or was it thrown away when someone cleaned out some of "Daddy's old junk," the things a man accumulates through the years but isn't sure what to do with, so they end up in a drawer or a box in the attic, gathering dust and lost from thought.
If it was a post-funeral housecleaning that sent that medal into the trash, why in this world didn't someone close to him hold on to it? The medal is a symbol of sacrifice and patriotism, a symbol of a job well done.
As Brother Larry at the Veteran's office put it, somebody did something good for his country.
How, pray tell, could you just throw that away?