55 Heroes! Local Korean War Vets receive Korean Ambassador for Peace Medal ~ HEROES IN OUR MIDST – VALLEY PATRIOT OF THE MONTH

Walter and Peggy Kiefer
Walter and Peggy Kiefer

By: John Cuddy – Sept. 2019

Our fifty-five heroes came from Lowell, Chelmsford, Dracut, and throughout the Merrimack Valley. They brought their families with them and were honored by the Town of Dracut, led by Town Manager James Duggan, the Massachusetts Secretary of Veterans’ Affairs US Marine Corp Veteran Francisco Urena, and the Consular General of South Korea, Kim Yonghyon in a formal ceremony in Dracut on Friday August 30th at 1pm.

James Spanos of Dracut, Massachusetts was drafted by the US Army to fight in Korea. He carried the M1 Garand rifle as a US Army Infantryman. Considered by military experts to be the finest infantry weapon ever, Mr. Spanos only remembers the weapon as being very heavy, and his eyes gleamed when he told me about becoming a non-commissioned officer and trading his M1 Garand for the much lighter M1 Carbine. James attended with his family, and he and his grandson are applying for an “Honor Flight” to Washington DC to see the Korean War Memorial. They are both excited about going to Washington, which caused a bit of good-natured family turmoil, on “which family member gets to go with James to Washington”.

Donald Beauregard of Lowell is a two war US Navy Veteran, serving during World War II and Korea with the US Navy. His ship the USS Bon Homme Richard (CV-31) was one of twenty-four Essex Class Aircraft Carriers built during World War II. While Donald is a two war Veteran, his ship served our nation in three wars, World War II, Korea, and Vietnam, earning six Battle Stars, receiving two Navy Unit Commendations and one Presidential Unit Commendation from Richard Nixon, himself a US Navy Veteran. I had the honor today of meeting Mr. Beauregard’s wife and two daughters, the couple also has two sons.

Chelmsford’s Walter Kiefer and his wife Peggy were in line for coffee, when I met them and learned of his service on the USS Greer County (LST-799), while serving with the US Navy. Walter was quick to tell me that the crew always referred to the ship as the “799”, it’s hull number, and not by the ship’s christened name. It was attacked by Japanese kamikazes during World War II and participating in the landings at Inchon during the Korean War. Walter Kiefer and the crew of LST 799 landed a tank unit of the 5th Marines at Inchon, and later laid and cleared mines during the Korean War. The ship earned, over the course of two wars, ten battle stars, a Navy Unit Commendation, and a Presidential Unit Commendation.

Navy Unit Commendations, Presidential Unit Commendations and Battle Stars, are earned in combat by ships but it is the crew, the officers and men of these ships, that do the fighting, that do the dying, and put themselves in harm’s way for our freedom. These men, and in today’s Navy, women as well, make daily sacrifices, including months away from family, working long hours, and doing the dangerous job of sailing the world’s oceans. Serving on a US Navy or US Coast Guard vessel is very hazardous both in time of war, and time of peace.

Private Kenneth Shadrick of West Virginia on July 5, 1950 became the first American killed in the Korean War. 36,574 more American deaths followed his, in the three years of fighting, an additional 103,284 Americans are wounded, with 7,800 more missing in action. One Korean War POW, Army Pfc. Wayne A. “Johnnie” Johnson risked his life during his imprisonment, by secretly recording the names of 496 fellow American prisoners who had died during their captivity. This total includes a couple of Catholic nuns. Years after the war, in August of 1996, the former 18-year-old Private was awarded the Silver Star by the US Army.

Technically the Korean war is not over, fighting sporadically continues after the cease fire in 1953. In his paper “The Quiet Victory”, author Manny Seck documents numerous incidents of combat on the Demilitarized Zone in Korea, including hand to hand combat, all along the 38th parallel in Korea, all taking place years after the cease fire of 1953. The US Army has been very stingy with recognizing the soldiers serving in Korea on the Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) for their bravery.

The situation is improving, recently former US Army Pfc. Mark DeVille was awarded the Silver Star for heroism in combat against the North Koreans, infantry battles he fought in 1984! His combat action against the North Koreans took place thirty years after the ceasefire, illustrating how dangerous the Korean DMZ still is. Contrast the US Army awards policy on the Korean DMZ, to that of the US Army concerning Grenada in the 1980s? During two days of fighting in Grenada, while the US invasion of Grenada took place, the US Army awarded 3,534 Combat Infantry Badges, some to soldiers who did not even get a chance to unpack their gear.

No one is slighting the bravery of the American Troops that invaded Grenada, especially not their brother and sister Veterans We Veterans just want the same standards applied to Korea. Men and women who served in Korea, especially on the DMZ after 1953, often must have to fight for their Veteran’s Benefits, benefits automatically awarded to those with Campaign Medals, regardless of their individual contributions to the Campaign.

Secretary Francisco Urena who assisted in the presentations at the ceremony, is a hero himself, receiving the Purple Heart for wounds in Combat in Iraq with a US Marine Tank unit. He has been serving brother and sister Veterans since the day he left the Marine Corp, protecting and assisting Veterans and their families at the local, state, and federal level. While I was in this room full of heroes, I noticed a Veteran with a Purple Heart and a Combat Infantry Badge, before I could speak to him, the man quietly ducked out of the facility after the short ceremony.

Today’s lunch, provided to our Veterans by Lenzi’s of Dracut, with several other sponsors pitching in, including the Dracut American Legion Post 315 and the Centralville Sportsman’s Club. The support in Dracut for Veterans is a source of community pride. The citizens of Dracut were in the company of fifty-five heroes, a humbling and moving experience. Leaving the ceremony, I bumped into a member of Dracut American Legion Post 315, a US Marine Veteran of World War II, in his nineties, he came to the event to honor his brother and sister Veterans from the Korean Conflict.

Hosted by Dracut Veteran’s Service Officer Jeff HolIett, this was a great event, honoring the men and women from throughout the Merrimack Valley who served our nation during the Korean War.

The Dracut VSO and the Dracut American Legion ask all World War II and Korean War Veterans to call 603-518-5368 and sign up for an Honor Flight to the Memorials in Washington DC!

John Cuddy served in the US Navy’s Construction Battalions (also known as the Seabees) after retiring from the Navy; he earned a bachelor’s in history and a master’s in economics from the University of Massachusetts on the Lowell Campus. He has been employed in Logistics at FedEx for the last 22 years. If you know a World War II Veteran who would like their story told, please email him at John.Cuddy@Yahoo.com. ◊