World War II veteran Lewis Frongner received eight medals on Thursday, including the Bronze Star, for his service in the Philippines.
U.S. Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah) presented the 92-year-old veteran with the medals that he had earned but did not receive when he served as a mortar crewman in the Asiatic-Pacific Theatre of Operations for 20 months during World War II.
"Lewis is a member of a select group of individuals — getting fewer and fewer in number — the veterans of World Ward II," Hatch said at the ceremony held in his office. "Many have called them the greatest generation for the sacrifices and dedication displayed by so many men and women who wore our nation's uniform."
Hatch said America's freedom has been made possible only because of its veterans. Hatch mentioned that his own brother was killed while serving in World War II, and that has made his family excited to support veterans who were willing to give everything for their country.
"I'm speechless," Lewis said, when asked for comments. A small, quiet man, he said he was overwhelmed by the whole thing.
Stephen Frongner, Lewis' nephew, said his uncle has only recently started talking about his service in the war. One day, Lewis showed his nephew his discharge papers and Stephen noticed the papers listed several medals his uncle had earned. When Stephen asked if he could see the medals, Lewis said he had never received them.
Stephen decided to write a letter to Hatch to draw attention to the medals Lewis had never received, resulting in Thursday's award ceremony.
When Lewis left the Philippines more than 60 years ago, he had to catch the boat to the United States in such a hurry that he had to leave behind the duffel bag that held some, though not all, of the medals he had earned. There were two to three thousand other men who were also forced to leave behind their belongings, including their medals, to catch the boat home.
Lou Jean Thompson, one of Lewis's daughters, said her father is a humble man, who felt embarrassed to be receiving his medals now when so many other men didn't get theirs either. He said he is no different from all those other men. Thompson said her father can't remember why he was awarded all of the medals. He always said he didn't do anything anybody else wouldn't have done.
Lewis's family attended the event, with the exception of his wife, Alberta, who wasn't able to make it because of her health. Randy Frongner, Lewis's son, came from Wyoming to attend. Randy sat next to his father while Hatch presented the medals and Randy pinned the Bronze Star Medal to his father's lapel.
Thompson said when she was a child her father only mentioned his service in the war when he told them to clean their plates because he'd seen children in the Philippines so starved they ate coffee grounds out of the garbage. In the last four or five years, she said, he has begun to tell his children about the miraculous situations where he was almost killed, but his life was spared.
Lewis was originally deferred from serving in the war, Thompson said, because he was taking care of his parents who were both deaf. Later, he decided he wanted to serve anyway. Thompson said after the terrorist attacks of 9/11, her father said, if he could, he would volunteer to defend his country again.
Robust for his age, Thompson said her father still wakes up early and shovels his own snow. Doctors are amazed at how healthy he is, and will parade him around their offices telling everyone, "This man is 92!"
Lewis married his wife in 1944, shortly after his return home. On their bedroom wall hangs the only belonging, besides the clothes on his back, that made it home with him from the Philippines — the picture of his wife that he always carried with him.