Dai Vinh thought the Bronze Star he had earned for his service during the Vietnam War was gone forever when he left it behind as his family fled the country in 1975.
Thirty-four years later, Sen. Al Franken presented Vinh with a new medal.
Franken, D-Minn., called the former South Vietnamese Army captain an American hero for his efforts during his 12 years fighting as presented Vinh the honor at his St. Paul office on Friday. Vinh, who now owns a nail salon in Richfield, Minn., saved several American lives in a mortar attack in 1968.
Vinh, 65, said the recognition was worth the wait.
"It has taken a bit of time, but better late than never," he said. "I know if I were asked to do it all over again I would have to say yes. I am a man of honor and responsibility."
Vinh's family, including his two sons, Phuc and Mike, wife, Carol, and granddaughter, Kayla, stood nearby as he received his medal.
Phuc Vinh, who traveled from Boston to honor his father, said he never heard much of Vinh's war stories.
"He's always been extremely quiet and secretive about his military years. My uncle liked to talk about the war, but Dad was more reserved. I didn't even know he won this honor until a few weeks ago," he said. "He's been wanting this forever. It's something special to finally see it right."
Vihn didn't gain U.S. citizenship until the 1980s, which complicated his efforts to replace the medal. About two months ago, he contacted Franken's office for help.
"The medal was lost in transit for years," Franken said. "He saved a lot of American lives."
When American troops withdrew from Vietnam, Vinh fled to Minnesota with his family and built a life in the U.S. His sons graduated from Carleton College and Gustavus Adolphus College in the '90s and now work in business.
"Dad always wanted something more for his kids and grandkids. He's proud to call himself an American, and his military legacy will live on," Mike Vinh said.