BIG RAPIDS — Ralph Wallace has been a dairy farmer and firefighter, but before any of that he was a soldier who fought in the Korean War. On Tuesday, although it was decades after the fact, his service to America was finally recognized.

Wallace, 86, of Paris, served in the U.S. Army from February 1952 to January 1954. During an intimate presentation at the AMVETS Post No. 1941 in Big Rapids, U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, R-Midland, awarded Wallace the medals he had earned but never received.

“For his service, Ralph has earned four medals and our country is overdue in presenting these to him,” Moolenaar said

Moolenaar presented Wallace with the Korean Service Medal with two Bronze Service Stars, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal and the Marksman Badge with Rifle Bar.

“I believe courage is displayed when courage is honored,” Moolenaar said. “It’s really important we honor our veterans so future generations know their service will be remembered as well. The nation owes so much to all of our veterans, including Ralph and his fellow soldiers who served in Korea.”

Waiting to receive his medals 65 years after he was first drafted, Wallace held back tears as he spoke about finally being given what he earned so long ago.

“It’s fantastic,” he said, his eyes welled up. “It’s something a long time coming.”

Wallace moved to the area in 1972, settling on a dairy farm in Paris, where he milked 60 to 80 cows each day. He also served on the Big Rapids Fire Department and was the state fire marshal for a period of time.

For Moolenaar, being able to acknowledge Wallace’s service was an honor, he said.

“I know your children are in Texas and Maine and your wife is looking down from heaven today, and they are all proud of you for your service and contributions,” Moolenaar said. “You’re a hero who answered the call of our country, using your time and talents to preserve our freedom and way of life.”

While his children were on opposite sides of the country and unable to attend Tuesday’s event, Wallace had no shortage of friends on hand to witness the presentation.

Brandy Bell, a waitress at Cranker’s, took the day off to support one of her regular customers.

“He’s a sweetheart,” Bell said. “He said to me, ‘I called and I got my medals. Will you come?’ and I told him I would definitely be here. He’s a great guy.”

Now that Wallace has his medals, he knows exactly where they will go.

“I plan to frame them and hang them on my wall,” he smiled.