I was in Wal-Mart the other day, and walked past a gentleman wearing a Purple Heart baseball hat; I stopped to ask him if he was a recipient. “Yep. Korea,” he said.
His name was Gordon Williams. He had been with the 1st Marine Division and was wounded in 1952. After Korea he enlisted in the Army and served two tours in Vietnam. I shook his hand, told him I’d like to hear his story someday, and thanked him for his service.
A couple of days later, I received a letter in the mail. In the envelope was a narrative telling the story of how he was wounded, and how he was treated afterwards. He said he passes out copies to new volunteers at the VA hospital to give them an appreciation of what many of our veterans have gone through.
The letter took the reader back to 1952, almost two years after Maj. Gen. Smith’s famous quote at Chosin, “Retreat? Hell, we’re attacking in a different direction!” By September, Fox Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines was in the “Nevada Cities” region on the western front, named for the nearby outposts of Reno, Carson, and Vegas.
Gordon was wounded while helping rescue Marines who had been pinned down by Chinese machine guns and mortars. In Gordon’s words, “It took us about an hour to reach the patrol; we had to go through the crossfire and their mortar and artillery barrage. The First platoon patrol was really in bad shape. We set up our guns; as soon as I opened fire with my machine gun a mortar landed about four or five feet from me. It wounded me and destroyed my gun. I could still walk. We started pulling out about two hours before daylight. We carried all the dead, wounded and equipment.”
When Gordon “…finally made it to our lines the Chinese were shelling us again. They dropped a round near me and I was wounded again. My wounds weren’t too bad, they just looked bad. Just like a duck shot with a shotgun; a lot of blood and ragged clothes.”
He was evacuated, went through two operations to remove shrapnel from his body, and after recuperating was returned to the line, “…right back to patrols, ambushes and living in bunkers…”
How many times have we walked right by a veteran in a dark blue ballcap and missed an opportunity to touch history? My brush with Gordon opened my eyes – these heroes are all around us – at the store, at the airport, everywhere. They’re the ones standing up at parades when the flag passes by, and who stand quietly at war memorials, eyes tearing up from the poignant memories of buddies who didn’t make it home.
If you see one of these fellows, stop and shake his hand. Ask him to tell you his story. And when you leave, thank him. You’ll benefit from the experience, just as we all benefited from what they did.
CWO3 Gordon Williams, a veteran of two wars and 22 years of active service – and a Purple Heart recipient – is our hero of the week.