When retired Master Sgt. James "O'Neal" Hughes received a POW Medal in the mail late last year, he quietly put it in a drawer.
"I'm a very private person," said the 62-year-old on Wednesday. "There are a lot of things my wife doesn't even know to this day, and a lot of people who will never know."
It's what made what happened at Fort Logan National Cemetery Wednesday morning all the more special to those who witnessed it.
"I've known O'Neal for 14 years," Rebecca Sawyer Smith said. "Until recently, I had no idea what he had been through. He never talked about it."
Hughes was presented with the medal Wednesday by Maj. Gen. H. Michael Edwards, adjutant general of Colorado. Hughes was a staff sergeant and an intelligence assistant for the Defense Intelligence Agency when Iranians seized the U.S. Embassy in Tehran.
He was among 13 African-American or female hostages released after about two weeks because their captors said they were oppressed in the United States.
"My hands were bound day and night," he told the crowd while fighting through tears. "There were long periods of solitary confinement, and we were forbidden to speak."
The Pentagon authorized the medal for Hughes in 2003 but it wasn't delivered until 2011.
The reason for the delay wasn't clear.
Hughes also served in Vietnam and at other embassies.
(KUSA-TV © 2012 Multimedia Holdings Corporation with The Associated Press)