It's been nearly 65 years since Jim Hahn served with the Navy Seabees in the last big operation of World War II's Pacific Theater: the seizing of the Japanese island of Okinawa.
Though the Arlington Heights resident downplays his role in a construction battalion attached to a Marine division, historians credit the air fields and roads they built with shoring up the Allied forces enough to mount an invasion.
Yet for all his efforts, all Hahn had to show for his participation were his discharge papers.
Until this week.
On Tuesday, Hahn's colleagues at Northwestern University where works as a machinist in the science and engineering departments surprised him with a private ceremony recognizing his service and awarding him the medals he earned, but never received.
"If you knew Jim, you'd know that he's very humble and was just happy to serve," said Mark Seniw, who manages one of the university's engineering labs. "He never pursued his medals on his own, because that's the way Jim is."
An officer from Northwestern's Naval ROTC program presented Hahn with his Asiatic Pacific campaign ribbon and his bronze campaign star, for having served during the assault on Okinawa. The ceremony took place in the office of Professor Stephen Carr, associate dean of the undergraduate engineering department.
"Somehow these medals were overlooked," Seniw says. "Someone needed to fill them in."
Hahn received the medals in time for Veterans Day, and his birthday Saturday, when he turns 86. Though his service goes back more than 60 years, back to when Hahn was 18 when he enlisted in the Navy, it hasn't been forgotten.
"We had no idea when we left California where we were going," Hahn said of his Seabee days. "We kept going from island to island, picking up more ships, so we all thought it was going to be pretty big.
"They kept telling us we were going to Island X," he added. "Most of us thought we were going to Japan."
His construction battalion was involved in transportation and hauling supplies from the beach to the Marines. From his perspective, most of it was pretty mundane and not worthy of any recognition.
"We didn't do any fighting or take any prisoners," Hahn said.
Yet his colleagues at Northwestern disagreed, saying his methodical work in the Navy paid big dividends later, much like his work at the university.
For 50 years now, Hahn has worked with engineering students, and now heads up Northwestern's student instrument shop, where graduate students, Ph.D. candidates and visiting scholars build their own research equipment.
"I never worried about not getting my medals," said Hahn, somewhat embarrassed by all of the attention. "I always knew that on my discharge papers, it said I was entitled to them."