Retired U.S. Army Sgt. Michael Griffin is so averse to gloating about his heroic actions that his own sister nearly missed his medal of valor ceremony Thursday because he downplayed it so.
Griffin, 34, of Carpentersville, was presented the Army Commendation Medal of Valor in a ceremony at VFW Post 1307 in Elgin. The medal was issued in 2006 but was lost in a bureaucratic snafu, officials said.
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Griffin's sister, Chastity Check of Joliet, said her brother had given her the impression that the ceremony wasn't a terribly big deal. It was only Thursday morning, when she read a story earlier this week in the Daily Herald, that she realized its significance.
"I Googled it, and when I read it, I busted out crying," Check said. "My boss came in and said, 'What is going on?' When I told him, he told me to just leave and come here."
Griffin's parents, 6-year-old son, aunt and uncle were also there.
Griffin was stationed in Iraq in 2004 when he provided key information to locate the enemy even after being shot four times in a firefight.
He wasn't expected to survive his injuries, let alone return to active duty, but that's exactly what he did after being unconscious for a month and enduring more months of rehabilitation, said VFW past post Cmdr. Doc Sheehan.
"He's someone who personifies the message of 'I'm just doing my job' -- but to the highest degree possible," Sheehan said.
Griffin said the ceremony was "amazing." He was especially touched that members of the 1st Battalion, 6th Field Artillery, 3rd Brigade, 1st Infantry Division drove from Fort Knox, Ky., to attend the ceremony. That's Griffin's former division.
"It really hits home to see 'The Big Red' come all the way here," he said, using the division's nickname.
Griffin is an example of continued commitment to a life of service, said Erica Borggren, director of Illinois Department of Veterans' Affairs, who presented the medal.
After retiring from the Army, Griffin earned a bachelor's degree in social work, and in August he will begin a master's program at the Jane Addams College of Social Work at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
Borggren noted, "He was not going to let service die when taking the uniform off."