BOSTON –– Reading resident Arthur Vars was awarded the Massachusetts Medal of Liberty during a State House ceremony in the Hall of Flags on May 22 honoring fallen soldiers and their families.
Accompanied by his wife, Karen, Vars accepted the award on behalf of his uncle, US Army Sgt. Christopher Young Vars, a World War II and Korean War veteran from Reading. The award was presented by Governor Charlie Baker and Major General Gary W. Keefe.
The Reading legislative delegation of House Minority Leader Bradley H. Jones, Jr. (R-North Reading), State Representative Rich Haggerty (D-Woburn), and Senator Jason Lewis (D-Winchester) attended the State House ceremony to thank Arthur Vars and his family for his uncle’s service to his country.
Sgt. Vars was officially declared as Missing in Action on November 29, 1950, after the unit he was serving in – Company E, 9th Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division – was overrun by Chinese forces near the Chosin Reservoir in North Korea. Although he was initially thought to have been killed in battle, Sgt. Vars was actually captured and held as a Prisoner of War in Pyoktong, North Korea, where he died in captivity.
On July 14, 2015, Sgt. Vars’ remains were identified through DNA testing and returned to his family for a proper burial at Woodlawn Cemetery in Everett. A Memorial and Thanksgiving Service was held in honor of Sgt. Vars at the First Congregational Church of Reading on October 6, 2015.
The Massachusetts Medal of Liberty is awarded in conformance with the standards and protocol of the Purple Heart. The award is provided to the next of kin of service men and women from the Commonwealth who were killed in action, died in service while in a designated combat area in the line of duty, or died as a result of wounds received in action.
Applications for the Medal of Liberty are reviewed by a three-member commission comprised of the state’s Adjutant General and two field grade officers. Qualifying families are eligible for one medal, which is awarded in the following order of precedence: surviving spouse; surviving children by seniority; surviving parent(s); surviving siblings; surviving nieces or nephews; and surviving kin in accordance with prevailing Massachusetts law.
It is estimated that at least 8,500 Massachusetts families are eligible for the Medal of Liberty, but are either unaware of this military honor or have not applied. More information about the Medal of Liberty, including a brochure and application, is available on the Massachusetts National Guard website at https://www.massnationalguard.org/images/Docs/Medal-of-Liberty-2019.pdf.