CADILLAC — There were no welcoming committees when Larry Luhtanen returned home from Vietnam.
For years, nobody asked Glen Head about his service in the unpopular war.
But on Thursday, family and friends gathered as the two former soldiers were honored with medals they'd earned long ago.
"I'm very proud of him," said Laura Durbin of Hazel Park, Head's sister. "I have a brother that's a hero. That's pretty cool."
Head, who was presented with a Purple Heart and Bronze Star on Thursday, downplayed his hero status.
"I'm just alive," he told his sister.
In addition to the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with the "V" for valor in combat, Congressman John Moolenaar presented Head, of LeRoy, with an Army Commendation Medal, Army Good Conduct Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with three bronze service stars, Combat Infantryman Badge, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Device (1960), Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar and a 50th Anniversary Commemorative lapel pin.
Head served from September 1968 to September 1970.
Moolenaar presented Larry Luhtanen, of Cadillac, with a National Defense Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal with four bronze service stars, Republic of Vietnam Campaign Device, Marksman Badge with rifle bar and the Vietnam Commemoration lapel pin.
Luhtanen served from May 1966 to May 1968.
The ceremonies are always special, said Moolenaar, who has delivered medals to nine veterans, including Luhtanen and Head, so far this year.
The ceremony combined a number of things, Moolenaar, a Republican from Midland, told the Cadillac News. One part of it was giving the veterans the medals they'd previously earned. The other part was presenting them with the 50-year commemorative pin of the Vietnam conflict.
Moolenaar acknowledged that veterans of more recent conflicts are treated differently than Vietnam veterans, who were sometimes spat upon and called names when they returned to the United States.
"As a country, we've learned from that experience," Moolenaar said. "Our soldiers now come back and (we) say, 'Thank you for your service.'"
For Head, the journey toward finally getting the medals (they were sent to an old address years ago and he never received them) started when his granddaughter, Kaitlyn Head, began asking him questions about Vietnam.
People didn't ask him about it often, Head said. "Maybe I should see about getting it, to pass it down," he recalled thinking.
When Luhtanen heard that Head was going to try to get the medals, Luhtanen decided to do it as well.
"It was on my bucket list for years to actually get the medals I was entitled to," Luhtanen said.
Head, who earned the Bronze Star and Purple Heart on June 15, 1969, when he "continued to engage the enemy" despite being injured, said he remembers the incident "every day."
"I was very fortunate," said Head, who was injured by shrapnel in the battle in which a lot of other men were seriously wounded or killed. "You never forget it. You learn to live with it. Got to keep moving on."