But while digging through his paperwork during the admission process for the Iowa City VA last year, it occurred to Durr there was one medal he had never received, though he had the certificate for it.
Friday morning, nearly 45 years after Durr was injured by anti-aircraft fire in Vietnam, Rep. Dave Loebsack presented the Purple Heart to the veteran, who was surrounded by family members in his kitchen in rural Solon.
"It's pretty special," Durr said. "It's more than I expected, to be quite honest. It felt wonderful."
Durr, who turns 68 Sunday, was diagnosed with stage IV cancer last year, and the disease has since spread from his lungs to his brain. He's had a lobectomy and a tumor removed from his brain, in addition to radiation treatments and chemotherapy. So when the request came through Loebsack's office recently — facilitated by a friend of Durr's — to present the veteran at long last with his Purple Heart, the process was expedited.
Rep. Dave Loebsack, D-Iowa, visited Solon to present Vietnam veteran Steve Durr with his Purple Heart. David Scrivner / Press-Citizen
"It's very meaningful — it's nice to have the award presented after all these years," said Durr's wife, Linda. "He had the certification all along, but he's been kind of rehashing his life and realized, 'I never received that.' "
Loebsack, who has two sons in the Marine Corps and is a member of the U.S. House of Representatives' Armed Services Committee, said it's important for him to be able to connect veterans with the medals they've earned.
"All of our veterans are special, but when we have someone who is a Vietnam veteran, who we don't thank enough, it's even more special," Loebsack said.
Durr served in the Air Force from 1965 to 1969 and was stationed at Phan Rang Air Base near Cam Ranh Bay on the southeastern coast of Vietnam. Durr, a staff sergeant, was a loadmaster aboard a C-123 transport plane, where he facilitated the on-loading and off-loading cargo.
"I got my draft notice from Uncle Sam and decided I'd rather fly than walk, so my buddy and I enlisted in the Air Force," said Durr, a Cedar Rapids native.
It was during a cargo drop at a special forces camp — one that Durr recalled as being particularly "hot," surrounded by the North Vietnamese Army — that he suffered the injury that earned him the Purple Heart. Drops to this base were generally quick ones, with the plane touching down just long enough to roll the cargo out the door and onto the runway before climbing back into the air.
"We were climbing out, and I was standing by the troop door," Durr recalled. "I heard this explosion, and the compartment filled with smoke. There was a big hole in the floor down by my foot. When I looked down, there was blood running down my arm."
An anti-aircraft shell had exploded and a piece of shrapnel had hit his harm, though Durr said his injury wasn't serious: "Basically, I just got a flesh wound. It could have been over this way" — motioning toward his chest — "and I wouldn't be here today."
After the war, Durr worked as an electrician, including nearly 30 years at the ADM plant in Cedar Rapids where he was an electrical superintendent. He and Linda raised two children, sons David and Eric, and now have six grandchildren.
As it happened, the medal delivered by Loebsack wasn't the only Purple Heart that Durr received Friday. While he was chatting with the congressman, 6-year-old Delaine was busy coloring a picture of the Purple Heart with the words, "Grandpa, I love you."
"Oh my goodness," said Durr bending down for a hug when Delaine gave him the drawing. "This will be my prized possession."