VA Maryland Health Care System
Korean Era Veteran Receives the Purple Heart Earned 56 Years Ago
It took 56 years, but Albert Stracke, 79, finally received the Purple Heart medal he earned as a combat Army soldier during the Korean War, thanks to Janet Ramsey, a social worker at the VA Maryland Health Care System. Dennis Smith, director of the VA Maryland Health Care System, pinned the medal onto Stracke on Wednesday, March 9, 2011. The medal hanging from his chest was something Stracke thought he'd never see.
"I've known women in my lifetime who were great at their jobs, but none can compare to Janet Ramsey. She is exceptional," Stracke said of the social worker who helped him obtain his long-awaited medal. "I've also earned the Bronze Star, the Korean Service Medal and a few others that I also never got and if Mrs. Ramsey says she's working on it, I believe her."
Stracke, who was drafted into the Army in 1952, was assigned to the 7th Division, 32nd Regiment in the Army as a machine gunner. His regiment served as replacements for a battalion that had all perished storming "Old Baldy Hill," he said."Every morning we'd marched up ‘Pork Chop Hill' to the front and every evening we marched back down with the enemy firing mortars on us all the way up and down. We kept 10-yard intervals between us so that if a mortar hit, it wouldn't take us all out at once." When the soldiers heard the telltale whistling of an incoming mortar, they'd yell "Hit it," to warn those ahead of them, and everyone would drop to the ground.
The day Stracke was wounded—June 16, 1953-- he'd heard those behind him yell "Hit It," and he dropped to the ground, but his ammo bearer may not have heard the warning or simply dropped too late. A mortar had exploded between him and the ammo bearer. "Shrapnel from the mortar hit my ammo bearer. According to our training, I called for a medic, then got up to keep going and that's when I noticed my hand was bleeding."
Stracke reported to the medic tent where his hand was treated, stitched and bandaged. While there, they took his pertinent info and he knew a telegram would be sent to his family home in Maryland. "I asked them not to send the telegram because I didn't want to worry my family, but it got sent anyway and I got into a bit of trouble for asking." With his wounded hand bandaged, Stracke returned to his unit and completed the rest of his tour, which ended in 1954. "I was in Korea through two of their winters, and I can tell you, it gets cold there. It felt as if I were shivering through 117 degrees below zero sometimes."
Stracke didn't know it, but he'd earned the Purple Heart and the other medals and was surprised to see them listed on his discharge papers. Over the years, he'd unsuccessfully tried to obtain the medals, despite sending letters and making phone calls. "When I called St. Louis, they said that mine and other records had been destroyed. I don't know if that was so, but I do know that I didn't get any of the medals listed on my discharge papers." Although Stracke didn't receive the medals, he worked with benefits employees at the Veterans Benefits Administration, who helped him obtain benefits for the disabilities he sustained as a combat soldier.
He'd all but given up on ever receiving his medals when he stopped by the VA Maryland Health Care System to pick up a life alert device. He mentioned to Ramsey that he'd been a combat Veteran from the Korean War, earned a Purple Heart and other medals but had not yet gotten them, and Ramsey took action.
"What is important, in my opinion,is listening to Veterans, and trying to meet their needs. Mr.Stracke said he felt ‘expendable' when he came home from Korea, and I wanted to make him feel important," said Ramsey, who is known for always going the extra mile for Veterans. "Mr. Stracke mentioned his desire to obtain the Purple Heart he was awarded from his service during the Korean War. His desire seemed reasonable to me, given the extent of his combat experience. Sometimes all we can do is listen, but fortunately in this case, our actions spoke."
Marvin Fields, the Army Wounded Warrior 2 representative in the Operation Enduring Freedom/Operation Iraqi Freedom/Operation New Dawn office, who assists active duty soldiers in similar circumstances, helped in the process of obtaining the missing medal. "He offered to use his his contact at Fort Meade, and the medal arrived in less than two weeks," said Ramsey.
Stracke smiled when the medal was pinned on him. "I've been through hell and back," he said. "And having the medal in hand proves it."