Friday, July 18, 2014

Let Me Tell You About a Man...

There once was a man, young in years, yet wise.  He married his true love, prepared to make a life for them on the fertile lands of the Midwestern Plains.  He knew the soil, the seasons, and the life, as it had been his way of living since birth.  They shared their love of tending the soil, for nurturing each other, and, most important, their love for God.  As they began their journey of wedded bliss, however, there were storm clouds on the horizon.

For in a far off country, Communism was dividing the land.  Brother was fighting against brother.  The domination of the many by the few was unveiling the realities of the ideology.  Women and children were suffering and mourning the loss of their husbands, fathers, and sons.  The leadership of our country decided it was time to step in.

And so it was, that the young man--though just beginning his new life, and not yet even 21 years of age--was called by his country to fight on the soil of a foreign land.  Along with thousands of his fellow citizens, he boarded a ship for that land across the ocean.

The man entered a world he had never known:  a world of mortar shells and land mines.  A world where one false move could cost a man his leg, his life, or the lives of many other men.  A world of bitter cold and wounded soldiers.

He spent the majority of his days in an area known as the Punch Bowl.  This was an area that had been taken by the North Koreans, but which the Americans had determined to reclaim for the South Korean people.  Before the man was assigned to the Punch Bowl, 160 men had lost their lives there, as an overzealous commander had been more concerned about his medals than the lives of his men.  It was there that the man truly entered into the horrors of war.

Every day, he would witness young children on their way to school, in the midst of this war zone.  He would load a trailer with provisions for the men on the front lines, and risk his life to assure his fellow soldiers had  provisions. One of those meal runs could have easily ended his life.  As he and his buddy stepped into the bunker with buckets of food, a blast hit the food trailer attached to his Jeep.  That trailer ended up being kicked into a canyon, now a victim of the war, too.  Pieces of the shrapnel ended up in both men, though the man would not have his share removed until over 60 years later.

He would use that same Jeep on other missions as well, as he would often carry the bodies of the same men [he had fed] to a nearby MASH unit for medical care...or to a camp where the body was placed in a bag.  The man learned that every day could truly be his last as well.

One day, while driving along a rim area of the Punch Bowl, known as Heart Break Ridge, he heard a mortar round aimed at the fuel barrels he was transporting.  Though he was not hit, he quickly shoved the barrels off the truck, to lighten the load and make himself less of a target.  On some of those same roads, he taxied an airplane mechanic to assist a downed pilot.  He also spent time concentrating on NOT driving in the ruts of the road, in order to avoid the tell-tale wires of  land mines.  Many times, his cargo was of the high-ranking leadership--a cargo which he transported to the front lines and back.

At a certain point during his service to his country, he was given the privilege of some R&R in the country of Japan.  There, the man handed a very well-worn picture of his bride to an artist, from which the painter was able to compose a beautiful likeness of the man's young wife.

Near the end of the war, the man was commissioned to take a commanding officer from a port on the eastern coast, through miles and miles of forest, to a city in northern Korea, where the Armistice Agreement was to be signed.  However, at an American checkpoint, the two men were refused entry, due to a machine-gun mount on the rear portion of the man's Jeep.  Though the man did his best to negotiate a compromise, in the end, they were turned back, resulting in a long drive back through the mountains and to the coast.

The man faced death and danger every day.  But one day would stick in his mind forever.  Another soldier had been shot by a sniper, and the man was sent to retrieve his body.  The sniper, with uncanny accuracy, had shot the soldier in the head, which caused his helmet to land several feet away.  The man knew the soldier's wife would want her husband's helmet.  To his horror, when he inspected the helmet, the name inside was his own:  Vernon Davis.  Apparently, the two men had slept side-by-side the previous  night.  When dawn broke, the deceased man had accidentally grabbed the wrong helmet.  The man knew that it could have been his head in that helmet, and his body being sent back in a bag.  Yet the man, in the compassion given him by his God, wrote the letter which would be delivered to the soldier's wife, explaining how he had died for his country.  The man wrote many such letters during his time in that foreign land, though he was personally experiencing the daily struggle with the mortality of his brothers and the battle for his own survival.

Then the day came:  the man had his discharge and would return home!  However, again, not all was picture-perfect, for the man had contracted malaria.  He would see his girl soon, but also spend some time recuperating in a veteran's hospital.

The man did not speak of the incidents of the Korean War for many years.  He would occasionally mention positive memories, but never anything in depth.  Until last week, when the man sat with his youngest daughter and a photo album, and his memories came out, bit by bit.  The time had finally come for the stories--hidden inside for over half a century--to be shared.

Yes, the man is my father.  He is a hero.  He is MY hero.


Update on May 28, 2016:  Tonight, my dad told me of leading other men down a road, as they headed for a location to shoot a mortar round toward an enemy target.  They had been warned that the road they traversed may contain land mines.  At one point, he spotted three wires protruding from the ground:  a sure sign of a land mine.  They skirted that point, continued to their destination, and successfully launched the mortar, hitting their target.  He later learned that many times, land mines were also hidden in the grass between the tire paths.  Thankfully, not this time...


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