WEST HAVEN -- It wasn't for the pursuit of medals that the late U.S. Army Lt. Col. Robert Alfred Mitchell served his country in World War II and the Korean War.
"He was a patriot," U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday.
Nevertheless, Mitchell, a Plainfield native who later also lived in Bristol, earned an impressive array of hardware over the years, including both a Silver Star and a Bronze Star, as well as two Purple Hearts, among many others.
And while he may or may not have received them, his family never saw them.
Robert Mitchell first entered the Army in 1941, and was admitted to Officer Candidate School the following year, according to Blumenthal's office.
He served with distinction in France in 1944 -- taking command of his company after his commanding officer was killed in combat, serving as a company commander in France, Belgium, Holland and Germany.
He later served in Korea.
Mitchell and his wife, June, both later died in a stateside auto accident while still on active duty in Boston in 1962.
But on Monday in a room at the Henry C. Lee Institute of Forensic Science at University of New Haven, one of Mitchell's three children, John Mitchell of Orange -- who with his younger brother, Paul, survived the car accident that took both of their parents -- finally got his father's medals.
"This is terrific," said John Mitchell, who accepted the medals from Blumenthal on behalf of himself, his brother and their older sister, Sandy.
Accompanied by his wife, Judy, Mitchell -- who was 11 at the time of his parents' deaths -- thanked Blumenthal "from the bottom of our hearts."
Blumenthal thanked the Mitchell family for their service and sacrifices and asked John and Judy Mitchell, who both work at UNH, to "please convey my thanks to your entire family."
Blumenthal pointed out that it is unusual for one soldier to be awarded both a Silver Star -- one of the highest honors the nation confers on members of the military -- and a Bronze Star. He said Robert Mitchell was "certainly one of the most highly-decorated veterans" in Connecticut and "certainly deserves" the recognition.
"I am proud to present these medals to you ... and to thank you ... for your service," Blumenthal said as he presented the Mitchells with a folding binder containing the medals.
They included a Silver Star, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Conduct Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal, National Defense Medal, Korean Service Medal, Armed Forces Reserve Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Expert Badge, Combat Infantryman Badge, two Overseas Bars, and a Croix de Guerre with Silver Star.
John Mitchell works in UNH's information technology department. His wife is a secretary in the Lee Institute's Forensics Department and previously was a secretary to world-renowned institute founder Henry Lee, who attended the ceremony.
Robert Mitchell did receive at least some of his medals at the time -- there is a photograph the family has of a presentation. But John Mitchell said that whatever medals his father may have received, "went missing and we have no knowledge or recollection" of them.
Blumenthal pointed out that as the photograph shows, there was a presentation, as was the case in many wartime situations, "but as we can see, they were on the battlefield. ... His family may never have physically had them in their possession."
In fact, "they may never have made their way home," he said.
Many soldiers of that time, "really didn't care about the medals," Blumenthal said. "The medals weren't the reason why they fought for their country."
John Mitchell said his wife initiated the process to recover the medals.
"Robert Mitchell's long and distinguished service to our nation deserves recognition and praise -- honors that he was tragically unable to receive during his lifetime," Blumenthal said in a press release.
"I am proud to join his family in finally presenting to them his well-earned and long-overdue medals -- a small tribute to his brave and heroic service," he said.