HUNTSVILLE, Ala. - A local World War II veteran received the surprise of a lifetime - one that was more than 70 years in the making.
Sgt. George Lung served heroically during WWII in the countries of Egypt, Libya and Tunisia. After the war, the Army promised him one of the highest honors they bestow to combat veterans, but it never came.
That all changed Wednesday morning, in a surprise Army Medal Ceremony.
George thought he was being wheeled into his 97th Birthday Party, and while they took a moment to sing, the ceremony primarily honed in on the pomp and circumstance, only an institution like the Army can provide.
George's daughter, Mary Jo McElhaney, was the puppeteer behind the strings. She's been working for years to see her father honored as the hero that she knows him to be.
After earning a purple heart, and scores of other service ribbons, George was promised one more.
“He kept waiting for it to come in, he says, they said they were going to send it to me," says McElhaney.
So she told her father, “If it’s the last thing we do, we’re going to get you that bronze star.”
Finally, George's medal arrived last month, inauspiciously in an envelope. Not exactly the thank you from a grateful nation that Mary Jo was looking for.
So she decided to create her own.
As the Army delegation pinned the campaign medal with three Bronze Star attachments on George Lung's lapel, you could tell he was deeply grateful. However, it wasn't until after the ceremony, that the full weight of bronze really sunk in.
“That’s the bronze star?" George asks his daughter.
"That’s your bronze star Daddy.” McElhaney replies.
Over the years, George has lost all of his vision and most of his hearing, so his hands, and a little help from his grandchild helped with the translation.
“At the bottom of the medal there’s people standing around, so that’s what you’re feeling," his granddaughter whispered to him, as he clutched the medal.
It's hard to know which was the better 97th birthday present, the medal itself, or his brave warrior that made it all possible.
“Proud of it as much as i am of the Purple heart," Lung told his daughter.
"But you got it," she replied with a tear in her eye. "I love you Daddy!"
"I love you too," says Lung, as he puts his hand on Mary Jo's chin.
Mary Jo says this will be give her father the emotional boost he truly needs right now. The love of his life, his wife, was just admitted to hospice care.
She was the only member of their family that couldn't be in attendance for the special birthday surprise.