Time travel as close as your local cemetery.

Interviewing Medal of Honor Recipient Opens a Window into the Past

September 17, 2014 / by davidwalton

Get 'em while they last... Medal of Honor Forever Stamps from the U.S. Postal Service.

Get ’em while they last… Medal of Honor Forever Stamps from the U.S. Postal Service.

As summer fades into autumn, I look back on some of the highlights of my own dog days — weekends in Minnesota, new friendships, gardening, outdoor concerts, mowing grass, twilight running and summer reading.

But the best part of my summer was meeting Ernest West, one of the last nine surviving Korean War Medal of Honor recipients.

Last month, the U.S. Postal Service honored Mr. West during a special dedication ceremony in Wurtland, KY, where it unveiled its new Medal of Honor Korean War Forever stamps with a folio featuring photographs of the last living recipients. Sadly, some of those pictured died before the stamps could be issued. Recipient John Collier, also from Greenup County, KY, was killed in the line of duty and was also honored at the event.

Of the 6.8 million Americans who served in the armed forces during the Korean War, only 145 were singled out to receive the Medal of Honor. What’s unique about Greenup County, KY, is it holds the distinction of being the only county in the United States with multiple Medal of Honor recipients from the same war.

About 250 people attended the event, complete with a color guard, the Wurtland Middle School choir, and elected officials.

With my hero Ernest West.

With my hero Ernest West.

I had the privilege of some quality one-on-one time with Mr. West before the start of the program. As we looked out towards the gymnasium which was filling up quickly, I tried to convince him he was a celebrity. But he told me that was nonsense and wouldn’t hear any of it. You’ve got to love his modesty.

The high point of the ceremony was a heart-wrenching video about Mr. West’s difficult childhood and the heroic act the U.S. Army Private First Class performed that earned him the Medal of Honor on Oct. 12, 1952 while serving near Sataeri, Korea. When it was over, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house. (Click here to watch video.)

The Medal of Honor Memorial in Greenup, KY.

The Medal of Honor Memorial at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery in Greenup, KY.

In 2010, sculptor Rich Griendling was commissioned to design the Medal of Honor Memorial at Kentucky Veterans Cemetery North East in Greenup, KY. It features West and Collier. If you ever pass though town, it’s definitely worth the visit.

Always remember, genealogy isn’t only about the dearly departed; the living are valuable resources, just as much as archives and records. Talking to Mr. West was a once in a lifetime opportunity for me; thank you for your history, your legacy and your service to this nation.

Until next time….

2 thoughts on “Interviewing Medal of Honor Recipient Opens a Window into the Past

  1. travelwithmarilyn says:

    Oral history is so important. You were fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk with this American hero. I certainly hope his family takes advantageous of his knowledge as well.

  2. RayJ says:

    A big salute to our Medal of Honor winners; they are true American heroes. A big thank-you to David Walton and the United States Postal Service for honoring them and bringing them to our attention once again.

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