MUSCATINE — It took 50 years, but on Wednesday morning, a Durant veteran was finally presented with the medals he earned serving in the Vietnam War.
At the Durant Lamp Memorial Community Center, .S. Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, handed David Happ a shadowbox filled with five medals and badges. The Durant American Legion Post 430 hosted the event and presented the colors, while a member of the local high school band played taps.
Happ, who enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1965, earned the Meritorious Unit Commendation, the National Defense Service Ribbon, the Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze star attachments and other medals.
Happ said he served two tours in Vietnam before returning home in 1968. A disabled veteran, who discovered he had diabetes in 1996, Happ said he was reluctant to ask for help from the Veterans Affairs department.
Cedar County VA Administrator Patricia Hamann remembers when Happ first greeted her in the courthouse around 2007 and their interactions since that time.
"He always says 'I don't need it, I don't need the medals,'" Hamann said. "But it's OK, as a veteran, to ask for things you deserve."
Happ now refers to Hamann as his angel. She was instrumental in having the federal government award the medals he earned in war.
"He's one of the most generous people I know," she said. "There's never a sad day, although, he's had plenty to bring him down."
Hamann said Happ frequently steps up to help veterans in need, distributing food and furniture to nearby vets, among other assistance.
"You've inspired a lot of folks and continue to inspire, even though you're not in uniform 50 years later," Ernst said after presenting the medals.
Ernst, who served in the military for 23 years, said she is proud Iowans are so dedicated to their country, adding out of the 3 million people in the state, around 270,000 are veterans.
The senator said it has been one of her missions and privileges to travel the state to award veterans the medals they earned decades ago. Most of the veterans, she said, served in Vietnam and did not receive a warm welcome when they returned home.
"This is extremely important to me as a veteran," she said. "At a time during Vietnam where those veterans were separated without any salute or goodbye or thank you, that's really hurtful to me. So it's an honor to present (them) with these awards."
Ernst said it's not always easy to track down the paperwork to award the medals the soldiers have earned. For example, a fire at a veterans facility in St. Louis destroyed hundreds of documents. She said the hardest part is digging, researching and finding the right records.
The Durant community center was filled with dozens of Happ's relatives, friends and neighbors. He thanked everyone in the room, saying they were the most important people to support him over the years.