Thoughts of medals and public commendation never entered Frank Andrews' mind when he returned to his hometown of Chicago after fighting on foreign battlefields during World War II.
Andrews, who now lives in Des Plaines, simply got on with his life, working and raising four children with his wife, Mary.
"I never looked back on the war," Andrews said. "I finished my service and that was it. I had just $300 and a family to support. So I just got to it, and lived one day at a time."
On Sunday, nearly 70 years after being discharged from the U.S. Army, Andrews received the awards long due him -- six medals in all, including the Purple Heart and the Good Conduct Medal. He received them during a special ceremony held at Cantigny Park in Wheaton.
Though still reluctant to pat himself on the back, Andrews, 94, said he was moved by the ceremony and grateful to have been honored.
"It's hard to put it in words. I feel like I'm floating in the air," he said.
Andrews received his medals Sunday from Brig. Gen. Gracus K. Dunn, commanding general of the 85th Support Command. Dunn praised Andrews as a hero and said he was a fine example of what television journalist Tom Brokaw once called "the greatest generation."
"They did their duty, they fought for their country, then they came back and lived their lives," Dunn said.
Pfc. Frank Andrews, a Chicago native who came of age during the Great Depression, served in the Army from August 1943 to November 1945. He was first assigned to the infantry, and in that role participated in the invasion of Normandy on D-Day. A bomb exploded near him during the assault, seriously damaging his lower leg. Instead of removing himself from the battle for medical treatment, Andrews continued fighting.
He also fought during the Battle of the Bulge, where he sustained combat-related injuries to the head and back. When his unit moved into Belgium, Andrews became known and liked among the townspeople he helped protect. He finished his career as a member of the Army's signal corps, for which he analyzed messages and determined whether they needed to be sent by radio or courier.
After leaving the military in 1945, Andrews returned to his wife and his oldest son, James, in Chicago. He and his wife would have three more children in the following years. He spent much of his post-Army career working for the U.S. Postal Service, first at the downtown Chicago post office and later at O'Hare International Airport. Andrews and his wife, who have been married for 72 years, moved from Chicago to Des Plaines in 2005.
At his family's urging, Andrews inquired in the mid-1980s about awards he might be entitled to for his service, according to his third son, Larry, an Arlington Heights resident. Andrews was told that he'd earned six medals, but they couldn't be presented at the time because the military had run out of stock.
Larry Andrews resubmitted the request on his father's behalf years later. On Sunday, after seeing the six medals pinned to his father's chest, Larry said the end result was worth the wait.
"This fills me with such an incredible sense of pride," he said. "I think Dad probably feels a little overwhelmed now, but this is a memory that he and all of us will treasure."
The Purple Heart Medal is awarded to soldiers wounded in action. The Good Conduct Medal honors "exemplary behavior, efficiency and fidelity" in active military service. In addition to those, Andrews received the American Defense Service Medal, the American Campaign Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal and the World War II Victory Medal.
Andrews wore the medals on his crisp uniform shirt as dozens of family, friends and current soldiers from the 85th Support Command expressed their congratulations and gratitude to him after the ceremony. Larry Andrews said more than 70 relatives attended. In addition to their four children, Frank and Mary Andrews have 10 grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
"Everyone wanted to see this," Larry Andrews said.
Frank Andrews said he views the medals as an honor not just for him, but for anyone who was served in the U.S. military. He said future generations can honor the sacrifices made by soldiers of the past by choosing compassion over conflict.
"We're all family," he said. "This is the greatest country in the world, and the reason is that we help one another, we help our neighbors. I hope that doesn't get forgotten."