The Fourth of July is a time where we celebrate our Independence. It's also a time to remember those who fought and died fighting for our freedom, and one man's mission to do just that was finally completed.
It took nearly 1,000 miles, and 44 years to bring medals home on Thursday, for a reunion in the true spirit of the Fourth of July.
"We feel like Steve is being honored today," said Georgeann Troglin, Sgt. Steve Cummins' sister. "He never leaves my mind or my memory."
Sgt. Steve Cummins was just 20 years old, only four months into service in Vietnam, when he made a choice, his men before his life.
"He exposed himself to draw the fire, so that his men could be evacuated," said Betty Cummins, Steve Cummins' mother.
Instead of bringing home their loved one, Steve Cummins' family had a box full of medals honoring his sacrifice. The medals included a set for his parents, and one for his young wife, married just five weeks earlier.
"We looked for her, but she passed away in 2002," Troglin said.
With the passing of Steve Cummins' wife also went with her any sign of the second medals. That is until a retiree in Alexander City, AL, bought a storage unit at auction ,and what he found inside set him on a yearlong quest.
"No doubt in my mind he was a hero," said Terrel Wheeles, the owner of the storage unit containing the medals.
He enlisted the help of Alabama TV News WSFA to find Steve Cummins' family and finally, Thursday, one of their staff made the trip with a gift that answered decades of questions.
"This is a totally different letter than any of them I've got," Troglin said.
"We didn't know that all this existed, and it just means the world to us, that we can have them now," Betty Cummins said. "And he deserved it."
The family didn't need the medals and papers to prove Steve Cummins was a hero, or to remember how much they loved him.
"From the time that child was born, there was something with me and him, it was a bond," Betty Cummins said.
But to hold the awards in their hands, to think of what it took to get them here, and to remember their loved one's sacrifice brings him right back to them, and lets everyone honor the Fourth of July through one soldier's spirit.
"It means so much that so many people care," Troglin said.
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