NEW YORK (WABC) --On this Veteran's Day, a surprise for a man who has done so much for veterans in his community.
"I'm not scared to open my mouth. I speak my truth. I'm an American," said John Scala, whose outspoken nature earned him the nickname Mr. South River.
He's a fixture at every council meeting. He fought to build a new VFW and volunteer firehouse, and even led his town's Memorial Day parade this year.
Now the 88-year-old is on his final mission, to try and find something missing for more than half a century.
"Where are my medals? If I knew where the hell my medals were, my niece wouldn't go through the trouble she's going through," says Scala.
His niece, Jamie Jablonowski and her mom discovered last spring yellowed discharge papers listing the U-S Army Corporal earned not one, but three medals for his service in the Korean War, delivering ammunition to the front lines.
John says he tried on his own for years but gave up trying to get his medals. But when his wife died this spring, just shy of their 62nd anniversary, his nieces decided to fight the battle for him.
"I just thought it was incredibly unfair that his service to our country had gone unrecognized," said his niece, Jamie. "I'm super, super proud of him."
We met Mr. Scala in September and made him a promise to do everything we could to get him his medals.
So we contacted the U.S. Military Personnel Records in St. Louis. And thanks to some incredibly helpful assistance there, a six month process was fast-tracked.
And just 2 weeks later, his United Nations, National Defense and Korean Service Medal with 2 bronze stars arrived.
We gathered local leaders, VFW friends and family to surprise him. The spry 88 year old was choked up, "I don't believe I got em after all these years," he said.