Korean War vet awarded medals 61 years later
Carleta Weyrich firstname.lastname@example.org
The date was June 25, 1950, the North Korean People’s Army invaded the Republic of Korea to the south. Three days later the North Koreans captured the Republic’s capital of Seoul. On July 1, the first U.S. ground combat troops arrived in Korea as United Nations forces to battle the invaders, and in time Chinese forces, in this east Asian country. The Korean War continued until an armistice was signed in July 1953, creating a cease fire line between the two sovereign states of the Korean territory.
Burton Young of West Union was among the veterans of the war to receive a letter of gratitude written 50 years after the Republic of Korea was invaded, dated June 25, 2000, for his service in the Korean War. The letter was signed by Kim Dae-jung, president of the Republic of Korea.
“We Koreans hold dear in our hearts the conviction, courage and spirit of sacrifice shown to us by such selfless friends as you, who enabled us to remain a free democratic nation,” Kim Dae-jung wrote.
Young spent 10 months in Korea with the 44th Engineer Construction Battalion in the “Broken Heart” Division, deployed from Louisiana.
“We kept the main supply lines open,” he said.
As part of his duties, he would swim under pontoon bridges to replace the ropes that would wear out. The bridges were on rubber pontoons that could be inflated or deflated as needed by the U.N. troops. Just to see if he could, Young said, he once swam all the way across the Han River. However, Young spent most of his time in Korea as a mechanic, keeping the big supply trucks on the road. He also was involved in guarding a bridge and spent three months in a combat zone.
In his 30s when the war broke out, Young was drafted into the National Guard. He went through basic training at Fort Knox, Ky.
“I weighed 155 pounds when I started and went up to 185 - and no fat,” Young said.
Shortly after he entered the Guard, Young married Lois Hull. In 2014, on March 3, they will celebrate their 62nd wedding anniversary.
From Fort Knox, Young was sent to Fort Ord in California on his way to Korea. He boarded a 90-foot ship, the USS Sgt. Howard E. Woodford, for a 14-day journey across the Pacific Ocean.
“In the storms, the ship would drop straight down 20 feet,” said Young. “I had to hold on tight to a pole so I wouldn’t fall off the deck. It cracked and popped, and I wondered if it would stay together.”
Did he get sick from the action of the ship?
“Everyone else did, but not me,” he replied. “I used their meal cards - I kept my stomach full. I guess that’s why I didn’t get sick.”
The ship landed at Incheon Harbor on the midwestern coast of the Korean peninsula - just after an offensive. From there he traveled north to the 24th Infantry Division. The headquarters, he recalled was in a school with a courtyard in the middle.
“There were big shell holes in the walls.”
From there he was sent to different areas. The closest to the North Korean border that he worked was about four to five miles away. While in Seoul, he stayed in a school. In other places, the company stayed in tents with electricity. He recalled the electric being shut off at midnight in the winter. There was a glow one night in another tent. Investigating, he found a soldier about to be burned by a flaming heater in the middle of the tent. Gasoline had been used to fuel the heater in an effort to stay warm in the subzero temperatures.
In the summer, he said, the temperature would get up in the 120s.
Young’s time in Korea was cut short by an inflamed tonsil. His entire jaw was swollen, so he was sent to Tokyo, Japan. By then he was so close to having enough points to go home that they let him go on home. He left Japan on a propeller-driven TWA flight, which stopped on an island to refuel where the temperature, he said, was 7 degrees below zero in August. Next he landed in Anchorage, Alaska, then on to Seattle, Wash.
He took the final leg of his trip home on a train, which he thoroughly enjoyed.
This year, Young applied for the one medal he thought he had earned from his service in Korea. To his surprise, he was awarded the following: Meritorious Unit Commendation; National Defense Service Medal; Korean Service Medal with three bronze service stars for the time he spent in a combat zone; and a United Nations Service Medal. He also has a special 50-year medal from the Republic of Korea.
With the help of former Adams County Veterans Service Officer Tony Blevins, Young applied for his medal about six months ago. He received all of them through the mail recently and was officially presented them at the Veterans Service Commission office. A special case for the medals was made by a volunteer in Manchester.
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