In a small town in southern Illinois, I remember hunting for box turtles on my grandparents’ property and fishing at a nearby pond. My grandfather showed me how to put a worm on a hook and how to pick ripe blackberries without getting pricked by the bush’s thorns.
My grandfather was a retired math teacher, and my grandmother was a retired trauma nurse’s supervisor. Being around my grandfather, I knew outdoor adventure was always in his plans.
What I didn’t know was why he jumped when there was a loud noise or why he became distraught and my father would console him. My grandfather would become deeply saddened and bothered by something I couldn’t understand at the time.
I remember hearing he was a Korean War veteran several times, but what did that mean? To the world, he was a hero. To a young girl, he was my grandfather.
It wasn’t until I was older that I learned his story.
He was a U.S. Army medic with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team from 1951 to 1953. He wanted to become a priest at his local seminary. Instead, he volunteered to join the draft after his father died.
He shared a number of events that took place while in Korea, one in which he was convinced he wasn’t going to make it.
One incident took place at Kumar Valley. Shrapnel injured his finger. He said, as a medic, he didn’t want to tell anyone about his finger considering others had more serious injuries than he did.
Another incident took place during the Battle of Pork Chop Hill. A heavy firefight ensued followed by an explosion. He remembers finding himself underneath layers of bodies and debris. He remembers thinking that he had to climb through the bodies because he thought he was in a trench. My grandfather shared that this was the moment he thought he was going to die.
Later, he regained consciousness in the back of a truck where the deceased were being collected. At this point and, after all these years, he questions why he survived.
My grandfather often spoke to my father about his invisible struggles. My father also served in the U.S. Army. He was a Special Forces Soldier in 7th Group. He, too, was deployed multiple times. Who better to understand the agony my grandfather experienced than my father? I remember seeing my father provide comfort to my grandfather when I was younger. Now, I know why.
I remember seeing my grandfather shake his head with tears coming from his eyes. He sometimes would hit his head with a closed fist because he couldn’t take the images out from his mind.
My grandfather earned his Combat Medical Badge, Jump Wings, Presidential Citation, Korean War Ribbon, and Good Conduct Medal.
Today, my grandfather still suffers from survivor’s guilt and “shell shock,” now known as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Fortunately, my father has helped him learn to work through his episodes.
If you or a Soldier you know suffers from PTSD and would like to speak with someone, contact the Womack Army Medical Center’s Behavioral Health Department at 907-6825 or talk to someone who will listen.
The Korean War may be known as the “Forgotten War,” but it is far from forgotten. It is a war remembered.