HAZLETON, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — On this week’s Veterans Voices, a local man is nearly brought to tears after getting the surprise of his life: Finally being awarded war-time medals for service to his country.

77-year-old Vietnam veteran Joe Galada had no idea why everyone was applauding him. It was all part of the big surprise from friends, family, and military brass. After decades, the first-class airman finally received his due: Medals for service in the Navy.

Galada thought he was simply going to the office to sign the paperwork, collect his medals, then have dinner with family.

“I was in total shock. Total shock. I still can’t believe what’s going on. I waited some 50 years for these and never thought I’d get them,” recalled Galada.

Galada came from a military family. His father served in World War II, and his son would go on to serve in Iraq, so when he enlisted in the Navy at 19 it came as no surprise. He was assigned to battle damage, recovering high-value items when a plane went down. He was also a crew chief for an F-101 fighter. There were long days that came with immense pressure.

“We worked 12 hours a day, seven days a week, no days off. Got up in the morning, and worked all day. Saluted the pilots, they took off, dropped their bombs, and we fixed the planes,” said Galada.

54 years after Galada came home from Vietnam, he received his well-deserved hardware: Six ribbons and five medals, including the National Defense Service Medal, the Vietnam Service Medal, and the Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal.

State Representative Dane Watro helped to organize the awards ceremony.