Two little boys stood proudly on Friday afternoon as their dad was honored for the courageous actions of his past.
Their father, SPC Tom Ducharme, is a Vietnam veteran with the US Army. He was wounded in the war, losing one of his lungs and damaging his right hand and the side of his face. He underwent 60 surgeries after his return home.
Senator Carl Levin presented him with his Purple Heart at a public ceremony on Friday outside the Ferndale Elks Lodge, where crowds of family members, friends and residents filled two bleachers and many more stood nearby.
"It feels really good," said Ducharme, a lifelong Ferndale resident, of receiving the honor.
His award is coming 41 years late - something Ducharme says he didn't think much of until his sons, 9-year-old Matt and 7-year-old Jack, started asking him questions about his service.
"I wanted them to know, and leave something behind" one day, he said.
His wife, Jeanmarie, shared her pride after the ceremony. "I'm just so happy for him," she said.
The event was organized by local nonprofit "Hangin' With the Heroes" as an opportunity for the community to "say thank you to an American hero," said founder Ron Gilmour.
Gilmour read the dictionary definition of "hero" during the ceremony: a man of distinguished courage or noble qualities; a person who has performed a heroic act; a warrior of special strength, courage or ability.
"Ladies and gentlemen, Tom Ducharme has exceeded every one of those definitions of the word hero," he said.
Ferndale City Council member Mike Lennon also spoke during the event. He said he has known Ducharme for many years but didn't know the details of his war history. "I'm proud of your dedicated service to this country," he said.
Senator Carl Levin said it was "a real honor" to be part of the ceremony and pointed out the importance of children understanding the "sacrifice and heroism" of the men and women who serve their country.
He also discussed the negative reception many Vietnam veterans received upon returning home.
"Never, ever, ever again will this country not fully support the troops of this country," he said. "This is a man who went to a war for us, for his country."
Officers of the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines were also in attendance, along with Ferndale's police chief, fire chief, police honor guard and more.
Ducharme's neighbor, Kim Ruokolainen, attended the ceremony with her children. "We wanted to show our support and we thought it was a good thing to expose our boys to," she said.