A member of the "Greatest Generation" received a long-overdue honor Wednesday.
Surrounded by family, a humble Philip Hopkins finally received the medals he earned on the battlefield during World War II, almost 70 years after the last shot was fired.
“I can't believe it’s all for me. Not for me, but for the country,” said Hopkins.
During a ceremony at the Waterford rehab center where he lives, the father of eight, grandfather to 19 and great-grandfather to 20 recalled the horror of the Battle of the Bulge, one of the deadliest of the war.
“I know we got shelled a lot,” said Hopkins.
Hopkins described the fear he and his army battalion felt during intense fighting in the forests of central Europe.
“You're scared like hell,” he said.
Unfortunately, moments like today's ceremony are becoming less and less frequent. The National World War II Museum in New Orleans estimates that 600 World War II veterans die every day. That's one every two minutes.
And that means that by the year 2036, beautiful moments like today’s will be gone.
His medal records lost in a fire, today’s ceremony would not have happened if “Hop,” as friends call him, hadn’t struck up a conversation about the war with someone from hospice, who got in touch with Congressman Joe Courtney.
That expedited the normally months-long process to get the medals down to a few weeks.
“It makes me feel very good because he's been talking about this for a long time,” said Hopkins’ wife, Clara.
According to his family, a series of falls, a broken leg and his ongoing dementia have slowed Hopkins down. But the extra special meaning of today’s ceremony right before Independence Day holiday is not lost on him.
“Quite an honor,” said Hopkins.