MT. VERNON -- It was a long time coming but local veteran Walter Pogue Jr. finally received the medals he earned in the Vietnam War at a ceremony Wednesday night.
"It means the world to me that somebody cared enough to do it," Pogue said.
Pogue was presented with the medals at the Mt. Vernon Elks Lodge. He was joined by family and friends, fellow veterans, Elks members and others.
Pogue attained the rank of E-5 Sergeant in the U.S. Marine Corps and served from 1967 to 1968.
During that time, he earned a number of prestigious medals, including two Purple Hearts as he was injured twice in combat.
However, Pogue's original medals were stolen while he was returning to the U.S. from Vietnam.
His family tried for some time to track them down, but were unsuccessful until they reached out to Illinois Elks State Veterans Chairman Bob Kane earlier this year.
Kane and other Elks members contacted various organizations and eventually replacement medals were authorized by the U.S. military.
"Anybody that served, we owe," Kane said. "They signed a blank line on a check. The least we can do is honor them and tell them thank you. And he was awarded these medals, they were stolen from him, he deserves to have them back."
Kane and State Rep. Terri Bryant presented the medals to Pogue Wednesday. Pogue was grateful but humble in accepting the honor.
"I am not a hero but I'm honored that the people that got these for me, it was kind of hard to get them and they did it, and I really appreciate that to the bottom of my heart," Pogue said.
Pogue's medals include: two Purple Hearts (one with a Gold Star), the Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal (with three Bronze Stars), the Combat Action Ribbon, the MM Rifle Badge and the Vietnam Campaign Medal (with a 1960 device).
Bryant also awarded Pogue a certificate from the Illinois Legislature and said he will also receive a special flag once it's been flown over the state capitol.
"I think we as a nation, we haven't always treated our Vietnam veterans the way we should have," Bryant said. She later added, "For it to have taken this long is a shame, but to be able to, at this time, return that stuff to him, there's not even words you can put to the level of significance involved in it."
Dale Williams of Mt. Vernon, who also attained the rank of E-5 Sergeant in the Marines, attended Wednesday's ceremony representing the Marine Corps League. He said his group has worked hard to ensure today's veterans are treated better than Vietnam-era soldiers were.
"When we got out in the '60s and '70s, people hated us," Williams said. "And we've worked to make sure that our kids were not treated like we were and we've done a good job with that."