Don Van Elzen got a big surprise Friday night at a family gathering at his son’s house in Ashwaubenon. The Korean War veteran finally received several medals he was awarded during his military service more than six decades ago. Making the surprise even bigger, Van Elzen wasn’t aware until now that he’d ever been awarded the medals.
Van Elzen served in the Army’s 9th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division from 1950 to 1952, spending 21 months in Korea. During this time, he was awarded a Purple Heart after receiving an injury. He was also awarded four other medals – the Presidential Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, and the Korean Service Medal – that he received on Friday night. The medals were presented by Major General Daniel Ammerman of the US Army. At the gathering at his son Joe’s house, 90 of Van Elzen’s family members – including 8 of his 10 children – witnessed him receive the honors.
“You keep putting medals on (me), I ain’t gonna be able to stand up,” he said, laughing.
Van Elzen’s reaction was one of humility and gratitude.
“I don’t deserve all this attention,” he said. “This is great recognition. I didn’t expect this at all.”