Two days after receiving the Medal of Honor, Allen Lynch was back to work at a Chicago sausage factory, grinding up beef hearts and pork livers.
It was 1970 and most of his co-workers didn't know he served in the Army - which means they had no idea what happened to Lynch three years earlier on one hot December day in Vietnam.
It would be another 12 years before he was ready to talk about it.
On Saturday, Lynch and 31 other Medal of Honor recipients will be honored at Arlington Park. There are only about 100 recipients still alive in the United States.
Lynch grew up on the South side of Chicago where he was bullied and picked on throughout grade school and high school. So, at 19, he joined the Army to learn to take care of himself. Turns out, he also learned how to take care of a whole lot of other people.
After basic training he volunteered for Vietnam.
"I needed to find out what I was made of," said Lynch, now 62 years old and living in Gurnee. "Vietnam was the event of my generation and I didn't want to spend it twiddling my thumbs in Germany."
Then Dec. 15, 1967 came along. It was about 85 degrees and all around Lynch was green. Some of it was uphill, some of it was downhill, but basically it was all the same, he remembers.
Lynch, a radio control operator, was with his unit of about 120 men when they were caught in an ambush near the village of My An. The enemy was hiding in trees and ditches. The battle lasted only seconds and many Americans were killed. Lynch dropped his radio and dashed across 50 meters of open ground full of enemy fire to help three wounded comrades. Making three trips in all, he carried the soldiers to a safe trench and protected them by returning fire and killing two enemy soldiers.
When his company was forced to withdraw, Lynch stayed with the wounded men armed with only a rifle and a grenade.
For hours he defended the trench. He crossed the exposed terrain five times to transfer the men to a safer place. The men were badly wounded and unable to walk. One would eventually lose his arm.
Then the helicopters arrived and rescued Lynch and the men, who were transferred to a military hospital. Then Lynch broke down. Then had a few beers. He never saw or heard from the men he saved again.
"It was the sum total of every influence in my life," he said about his actions in Vietnam. "It was my mom and dad, it was my drill officer, it was my religious values. It was me out there and all of those people."
Lynch doesn't know how many soldiers died in the ambush and he's not interested in tallying that number today.
Nine months after the ambush, Lynch was discharged from the Army, although he would serve in the National Guard for the next 20 years. He also worked for veterans benefits organizations, including 20 years with the Illinois Attorney General's office. Now retired, he still volunteers at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Chicago.
When Lynch returned to civilian life, he did what many soldiers did. He pushed Vietnam to the farthest corner of his memory and went about the business of getting a real job. He graduated from Southern Illinois University, got married and had a family.
"God had stuff for me to do, I guess," he said.
Today Lynch talks freely about his time in Vietnam even publicly in front of schools and other civic organizations.
But it wasn't always that way. When he returned home he was shocked how people treated him. Not only did they not appreciate what he did, they condemned him for it. So he didn't tell anyone but close family and friends that he served in the Army. The omission became habit.
"I'm still bitter about it," Lynch said.
Lynch was only able to talk about his time in combat after the Vietnam Veterans Memorial was dedicated in Washington D.C. in 1982. That event changed something inside him, and today he keeps in contact with other vets, including other living Medal of Honor recipients.
And while the military will always be a part of Lynch, it's no longer the focus. He lives in Gurnee with Susan, his wife of 38 years.
Life is good.
He has three grown children, six great-grandchildren and sees them often. This summer he's doing some remodeling, including Susan's sewing room. One day, his youngest daughter, Carolyn, drove over from Bartlett to help him paint. She arrived bearing coffee and the two decided to have lunch before getting down to work.
"When you deal with life and death you look at everything differently," he said. "All of the sudden you know what's important."