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A visit to the National D-Day Memorial by Honor Flight of East Tennessee, resulted in a rare occurrence.
The Silver Star is America’s third highest medal for valor under fire. One out of 133,000 men who fought in the Korean War was awarded that medal and the Honor Flight visit brought two of them together by chance. They had never met each other before.
There were 19 World War II veterans and one Korean War vet, a man named Harold Carter, who received the Silver Star for his service, attending with Honor Flight.
Carter had been part of the 24th Division which was serving as an occupation force in Japan when North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The 24th represented the only troops quickly available to be shoved into the gap and were sent to Korea, although they weren’t ready, or adequately equipped for combat. The North Korean onslaught drove them back to the southeast corner of South Korea in short order.
Carter drove a tank retriever and, at one point, was ordered to retrieve two disabled half tracks. He had to do this while exposed to mortar fire. He recovered one and went back for the second.
At that point mortars began zeroing in on him. He saw the shells landing, walking toward his tank retriever. They stopped just short of a shell dropping through the hatch where he was sitting. The shelling stopped because his commanding officer called in a light observation plane to try to locate the mortars’ location. The observation plane spotted them and called in an air strike which wiped them out.
The other Korean War Silver Star recipient is Bob VandeLinde, who lives in Huddleston, near Smith Mountain Lake. VandeLinde is a long-time National D-Day Memorial volunteer and was one of the guides on hand to show the men around the Memorial.
VandeLinde was a paratrooper, a member of the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team of the 11th Airborne Division. His regiment had made a combat jump into North Korea, behind enemy lines near Sukchon north of Pyonyang on Oct. 20. Two days later, his company was dug in and VandeLinde, a sergeant, was in charge of an eight-man forward outpost. It was night and their job was to alert the company of the approach of enemy troops. They got in a fight with 200 North Korean troops — a fight that involved rifles, grenades and hand-to-hand combat with bayonets.
Carter and VandeLinde met for the first time at the Memorial when they were introduced to each other last week. It was an emotional meeting.
Honor Flight makes a trip twice every year, bringing veterans to the National D-Day Memorial and then on to see the war memorials in Washington D. C. They come in a chartered bus and there is one guardian for each veteran. The guardians’ purpose is to assist the veterans as many are very elderly. The oldest vet on Friday’s trip was a 93-year-old World War II veteran. They also have one wheelchair for each veteran.
“It’s there if it’s needed,” said Edie Lowry, president of Honor Flight North-East Tennessee.
They also provide oxygen for any veterans who need it.
Each trip is accompanied by medically qualified people who can assist if there is a problem.
“We have a meeting before we leave,” she said. “They look over the applications to see which will need to be watched the closest,” Lowry said.
This year’s trip was accompanied by the Patriot Guard. The Patriot Guard is a group of motorcycle enthusiasts who normally shield the funerals of men who have been killed in action from potential disruption. This year, a Patriot Guard motorcycle, bedecked with flags, led the bus.
The next Honor Flight visit to the D-Day Memorial is slated for Oct. 11.