BOUNTIFUL — Ninety-one-year old Jim Lamph served for more than two decades in the Air Force, including World War II.
After hundreds of hours writing letters and making phone calls, the Bountiful man has finally found the most important missing memories from his service: the medals he earned.
"It feels good to get what you know you deserved," Lamph said, choking back emotions and wiping away a few tears. "I felt they were short-changing me."
Most of his military records were among 1.5 million files destroyed in a massive fire in 1973 at the National Personnel Records Center in suburban St. Louis. But the Air Force also kept some of those records separately.
"It was my life," Lamph said as he looked at the line of medals and ribbons displayed in a shadow box. "As it went through, it was my life."
His parents died before he finished high school, so he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Fort Douglas in 1940, mainly for room and board. As the war intensified, his job as a parachute rigger took him to England, Italy and Japan. He spent more than 20 years in the Air Force, but he never received the medals he earned during his service. Then, six years ago, his children urged him to track them down.
"They told me, 'Why don't you see if you can get the medals. We see people getting medals all the time, dad. Why don't you see if you can go and get yours?'"
So, he got to work. Lamph and his son estimate he spent about 200 hours making phone calls, writing letters and following leads.
"I wrote to everybody I knew, every record place I knew,” Lamph said, “and it did nothing."
Then he finally made some progress and got the aid of a man in Clinton who helps veterans track down their records. Last fall, he received the first five medals: the American Campaign Medal, the U.S. Army Air Corps Merit Medal and three medals for service in the Korean War.
"These are earned medals. I was there," he said, choking up.
Three weeks ago, he got the rest.
"This is a big one for me," Lamph said, pointing to the European African Middle Eastern Campaign Medal. That medal represents all of his time in the European theatre during the war.
He also finally got a copy of his complete military records and discovered he may need to make more room in the shadow box.
"In this record that I got a couple of weeks ago, there's two more medals that I'm supposed to get that I recognize."
Even though the medals themselves have never been part of his life, the array of military awards spark memories.
"I can see it all. It really does (bring back memories)," he said. "I can see the bombs falling."