OGDEN -- Marine Pfc. Robert Frank Wahlen finally received his two Purple Hearts on Saturday, 60 years after he was wounded in Korea and with his wife, children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren looking on.
The 79-year-old Ogden man tried to hold back the tears when he realized the party at the George E. Wahlen Ogden Veterans Home was for him.
"When I heard it was for me, I almost passed out," said Wahlen, after learning he was the guest of honor.
"Dad, we are all conspirators and everyone of us lied," said Debbie Williams, Wahlen's daughter.
Wahlen had been told the party at the veterans' home was to honor his son-in-law, Dr. Brent Williams.
"We are here to take care of an oversight that happened 60 years ago," said Darin Farr, the public relations officer for Utah Department of Veterans Administration.
Debbie Williams said she spotted an article in the Standard-Examiner that ran under "50 Years Ago Today" that said her father received a Purple Heart. When she asked him about it, he said he never got it.
"He's such a humble man and an incredible man," Debbie Williams said.
When she asked him if he wanted it, he said it wasn't all that important.
But Debbie Williams and her six siblings thought otherwise. She wrote letters and made phone calls trying to find out what needed to be done so her father could receive the awards.
Robert Wahlen is the cousin of the late George Wahlen, who received the Medal of Honor for his heroism in World War II and for whom the veterans home is named.
Williams found the right person to help: George Wahlen's son, Blake. He told her who to call and before she knew it, the wheels were in motion to get the medals for her father.
"It's a shame this has taken so long," said Sen. Orrin Hatch, who presented Wahlen with his first medal for his injuries he received Aug. 18, 1950, in South Korea.
He received the second medal from Mabel Wahlen, George Wahlen's widow, for his injuries he received in North Korea on Nov. 29, 1950, while serving in Company B. 5th Marine Regiment of the 1st Marine Division.
Wahlen was first injured when he was hit in the knee by shrapnel.
After recovering from that wound, his unit headed into the battle of Chosin Reservoir.
Wahlen does not like to talk much about what happened. He said he remembers he and others were in a fox hole when an enemy concussion grenade blew him and the others out of the hole.
"You don't know what's going on for a couple of days," he said.
Wahlen remembered being in a tent with 15 other injured servicemen, waiting to be transported to Japan for medical treatment. A lieutenant came in the tent and told them the Chinese had just entered the conflict and were on their way.
"If they entered the tent, we were told we could only give our names, rank and serial number," Wahlen said. "We could hear them talking all around us, but they never came in. I think the Lord protected us."
His wife of 56 years, Annabel, said the celebration was one secret that was easy to keep from her husband.
"I knew about it for the past two weeks," she said. Whenever she thought about it, "I blocked it from my mind so I wouldn't tell him."
Annabel said she knew about her husband's injuries and what he endured while he was in the tent waiting for several days for help. The temperatures dropped below freezing and he still suffers today if his feet get cold because of frostbite.
"It was terrible," she said about what he endured. "I know if I get cold and can't get warm, I cry."
Wahlen said he had no aspirations to serve in the military. It was a 1948 newspaper article that landed him in the Marines for four years, shortly after he turned 18. Another boy, who was 17, enlisted in the Marines, using Robert Wahlen's name, his birthday and his parents' names. The recruiting office ran the information in the Sunday paper, Wahlen said.
"Dad saw it and asked me when I signed up," Wahlen said. "I told him I didn't. That Monday I went to the (recruiting) office to get it straightened out and they told me to head to San Diego and they'll get it straightened out, but they didn't."
Wahlen figured the military lost his paperwork for the Purple Heart awards and he would never see them. Farr said it is not unusual for the military to have paperwork saying someone should receive an award, but for the award not to be presented.