The evening before the ceremony, Edwin Wolf couldn't sleep.
Memories he preferred to ignore stirred all night: guiding a boat into the flash of gunfire, gray waves tossing drowned boys, German mines sticking up in the sand, the sting of sulfur on his face.
The ghostly trace of voices, smells, panic of June 6, 1944, returned.
At 92, Lt. Col. Edwin J. Wolf again raced down Omaha Beach -- and found himself awake in his Roland Park home, a retired lawyer, not a soldier. He felt sick, shaken.
A recent letter from the Army said it had misplaced the paperwork for the medal he should have received 55 years ago. Yesterday, at a small ceremony at Fort Meade, the Army finally awarded him the Bronze Star for valor.
Wolf shook his head when he mentioned it to friends. " `Misplaced by inadvertence,' " he said, quoting the letter. "Can you imagine?"
Over the last 50 years, he had raised a family, practiced law and served a couple of years as a Baltimore Circuit Court judge. Friday night, he took his wife of 65 years, the former Jane Hutzler, out for a steak dinner. They have had a good life.
In a black felt box, he saved mementos: the Purple Heart, service ribbons and the Croix de Guerre for bravery, presented by Gen. Charles de Gaulle, who kissed him on both cheeks.
Yesterday morning at the base, a small group from the Fort Meade Retiree Council greeted him.
"I'm at your command, sirs," he said, brightly.
He looked trim in dark clothes, eyes alight behind gold frames. The garrison commander, Col. Michael Stewart, admitted feeling intimidated, intrigued, and inspired by his example.
"My generation doesn't know the horror of Omaha Beach on D-Day," Stewart said. "I just can't imagine it, though movies like `Saving Private Ryan' start to give us some insight. It's truly an honor, sir."
In 1943, Wolf trained soldiers for amphibious warfare on the practice sands of Cape Cod. Up at 2 a.m., rehearsing in the surf till 5 a.m., he taught men to land vehicles on beaches, unload food, gas and guns.
In September of that year, the Army sent him to its amphibian training center near Devon, England. The Allied command had selected 50 miles of coast in western Normandy to stage an all-out assault into the heart of Nazi Germany, and Wolf was called to help train the largest invasion fleet in history.
When the garrison commander at Fort Meade pinned the medal to his jacket yesterday morning, Wolf was silent for a moment. Victory in war takes a strange toll.
"I thank you all for being here today," he said. He trailed off as he looked around the room.
"I had a very bad night last night."
The details of his role on D-Day emerged from the fog of memory. The scene of confusion as one of 34,000 men at horrific event felt fresh.
"Mister, that was a sad sight," he said.
On June 6, 1944, at 7: 30 a.m., leading waves of Army engineers in 2 1/2-ton amphibious trucks, Wolf was supposed to bring boatloads of supplies to shore, then move inland. In the chaos on the beach, he managed to find his commanding officer and call the trucks to stay on shore. A mortar hit the commander moments later, and Wolf took charge, directing the amphibians to circle out in the surf and stay put.
The commendation honors him for "rapid assessment against a determined and aggressive enemy."
He doesn't immediately recall every moment that followed, though he remembers blood streaming from his right eye after being shot. He remembers the voice of a medic who had tried to treat the wound: "Hey, Wolf! If you don't get the hell off this beach, I won't be responsible for you!"
Other voices, faces and sights joined the memory.
Three months earlier, during a practice mission on the southern coast of England, he witnessed the slaughter of hundreds of Americans at Slapton Sands, when German submarines surprised them, sinking boats. In the melee, the "friendly fire" of English and American soldiers left more than 700 dead.
It was an "outrage," Wolf would say. The Army swore them to secrecy.
He would serve in other battles, but D-Day brought it back.
In August 1944, Wolf was commended for valor. Then someone lost the paperwork. Yesterday, Stewart, the garrison commander, shrugged and said he didn't know what happened. Wolf said a friend had instigated the event by contacting the Army on his behalf this year.
Frankly, Wolf thought most men who would have cared were either dead, languishing in nursing homes or living too far away.
But the award did seem to matter to everyone yesterday morning, to the few retired soldiers and military staff. There were still those who would stand in honor of a humbled elder who remembered the past with mixed emotions.
"It's tough when you think back 55 years and remember that Omaha Beach," Wolf said. "That was the damnedest place you ever saw in your born days. And how we made it, I'll never know."