Retired Army Sgt. Michael Griffin will be honored with the Army Commendation Medal of Valor Thursday, nine years after he was shot four times in Iraq and provided key information about the enemy's whereabouts while he fought for his own life.
It's an honor that's nearly seven years overdue for the Carpentersville man, who comes from a long line of war veterans and now suffers from Post-traumatic stress disorder and physical ailments.
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"Regardless of the injuries I sustained ... the challenges and the sacrifices that had to be made, I'll forever be proud that I served my country," says Griffin, an Elmhurst native.
Griffin, 34, a married father of two, was supposed to receive the medal in 2006. Paperwork snafus within the Army left things in limbo before they were finally rectified.
Because so much time has passed Griffin said he's not emotional about the honor, adding that winning awards wasn't the reason he joined the service.
"It was about doing what I was meant to do. It was about serving my country, protecting my nieces, my nephews, my children, just answering the call," Griffin said. " ... It was about standing side by side with my battle buddies and doing what I can so they can make it back OK and to complete the mission."
At 1 p.m. Thursday, the Veterans of Foreign Wars in Elgin will honor Griffin during a ceremony at 1601 Weld Road. Among the 70 people expected to attend are Carpentersville Village President Ed Ritter and a representative from Congresswoman Tammy Duckworth's office, according to Doc Sheehan, the VFW Post's past commander and the ceremony's organizer.
"It was an act of heroism on his part," Sheehan said of Griffin's work in Iraq. "He's a disabled veteran who's done an awful lot for this country and his community."
Spurred by footage of the second jet flying into the south tower of the World Trade Center Sept. 11, 2001, Griffin enlisted in the Army the following day. He was 22.
In November 2004, Griffin was securing a neighborhood when someone fired shots at him, he said. Griffin fired back and as he did, someone on the street walked in front of him and opened fire. His vest absorbed two of the bullets, but another pierced his left leg and a fourth hit him in the left side of his stomach.
As he was bleeding, Griffin told his superiors where the enemy forces were, which helped save lives, secure weapons and destroy the insurgents, according to a statement from the Army.
After six months of operations, including one month in a coma, Griffin returned to active duty, but was forced to retire for medical reasons. He's spent his time since then gearing up to serve his country in another way.
Next month, Griffin will graduate from Governor's State University with a bachelor's degree in social work. He will also pursue a master's degree in mental health social work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Once he finishes school, his goal is to work with veterans suffering from the effects of PTSD.
"I hope to be able to be there for them and to serve them to the best of my abilities," Griffin said.