CRANSTON, R.I. – Like many of the men he served with, Joseph Aquilante was eager to get home after World War II and left the military without collecting the medals he had earned.
It wasn't until decades later when he built a model of the bomber he trained on for his grandson, Anthony, that he started talking with his family more about his service.
Aquilante, of North Providence, began thinking lately that it would nice to leave the medals for his two grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. In March, as he was celebrating his 91st birthday, he asked his daughter to enlist the help of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed's office.
The Rhode Island Democrat presented Aquilante with his medals Monday in Cranston.
"I don't know what it'll mean to them down the road, but I wanted to give these to them as a keepsake, a part of history," Aquilante said.
His daughter, Sally Veltri, said the medals are part of his legacy.
Reed said he has held hundreds of similar ceremonies to give veterans the recognition they deserve.
Aquilante was drafted into the U.S. Army Air Forces in 1944 at age 18 and spent most of his two years of service in the Pacific. He reported on new developments in Japan and retrieved Japanese aircraft from airfields for technical knowledge before preparing them to be sent to Washington, D.C.
He returned to Rhode Island in 1946, got married, settled in North Providence and began his career as an auto mechanic. He and his wife of 60 years, Elsie, had three children. He was widowed a decade ago.
Aquilante received the Good Conduct Medal, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and Army of Occupation Medal, Japan Clasp. Pointing to the Good Conduct Medal now affixed to his jacket, Aquilante said each holds a special meaning and significance.
"They say as you get older you kind of get more sentimental and whatever, but it's not that at all. It's just the honor that goes with these things," he said.