For most war veterans, speaking about what happened during their time in battle is a very difficult and sometimes impossible thing to share.
For those who have sacrificed their youth, and inevitably their whole lives for their country, coming back home after war is a lonely road traveled, one which understanding is void and fear is ever present.
Unless you have walked in a man’s shoes, you cannot feel the path he has taken. The many atrocities war brings with it have to be experienced to bring understanding and thus veterans hide their experiences away deep within, only escaping through their nightmares and the occasional prying of others.
Hero is a word no veteran relates to, despite being tagged to it from the civilian world. Veterans shy away from the word “hero” as if it is has some negative condemnation to it. Most will say they were just doing their jobs as soldiers to protect their country and that it is the men and women that didn’t make it back home from the wars, that are the heroes to them.
Walter Boyd Head of Auburn is one of those people, a hero to others, just a man fighting for his country to him. He is also one of those veterans who doesn’t talk about what happened when he was at war in Korea for 22 months. In fact his four grown children haven’t really heard much about those 22 months that molded their father into the man they now know. For Walter; however, it is a time he carries with him, a part of who he is, and he revisits that on a daily basis… quietly, sorrowfully and sometimes fearfully. A time he has kept within himself for 64 years, until recently after finding a friend he felt he could share it with.
“I saw that she was a good person. A good Christian woman, a leader. It just felt like it was the time,” said Head of fellow church member Jo Orange. “We are like family she and I now and we have become very close over the past year,”said Head.
Mrs. Orange and Mr. Head both attend Chandlers Chapel United Methodist Church. Jo says she knew Walter as a quite man sitting in the back of the church. It wasn’t until about a year ago that the two began emailing one another and before long became good friends. Orange said she knew as the two began talking that Mr. Head was an extraordinary individual and when the emails that held his deepest secrets began to come, she recognized how lucky she was to be the person on the other end he told them to.
“Knowing Jo and who she is and how easy she is to talk to, I found it easier to talk about what I had been through in an email,” said Mr. Head on why he could share what had happened to him now.
Mrs. Orange says she has been touched by Walter’s experiences and says she is saving them in a file, which he says she can share with his children once he is gone.
What Walter went through is unbelievable and has made an impression upon Orange.
“He lives with the guilt everyday because of what he had to do there. I’m sure it is not easy for a Christian man to have to kill someone, but during war you have to,” said Orange.
One of the most haunting times for Walter, one in which he could write down in an email, but struggles getting it to come out of his mouth, was the time he had to take the life of a young enemy soldier he came face to face with on the battlefield. Walter said he and some other soldiers were sent out at night to find the enemy and see what they were up to. When they turned a corner, there was the enemy soldier right in front of him with his gun pointed ready to shoot
“It wasn’t the killing him, it was the look on his young face as he died,” said Walter sitting at his dining room table, staring blankly out his back window into his yard as if he were right back in Korea.
Walter said his time in Korea was spent taking hill after hill after hill. The only rest they got was when they would pull back to allow for reinforcements to arrive. Walter told of one time when three new soldiers ended up in his unit. he went to get them, bringing them up to tell them what they would be doing and a mortar came in and killed two of them before they could ever start.
One day, while fighting hand-to-hand combat, Walter was stabbed through his palm with a bayonet. He said he was patched up and sent back out to fight. Hours later that same day, Walter was hit by a mortar that took him out of battle and sent him to several aid stations before finally ending up at a hospital in Japan. Walter suffered a severe head injury and said he lost several days after the mortar hit in which he cannot remember. “They sent me back to the battle, but I can’t remember how he got there,” he said.
Orange, through talking with Walter, has learned that he feels guilty of making it out, when so many of his friends did not. His best friend was killed the day he came back after being wounded he found out. For 22 months, Walter was surrounded by death, for the next 64 years he has been surrounded by memories that have attached themselves to him relentless.
Walter has received many decorations for his service in Korea. He has been awarded the Bronze Star Medal, which is a United States Armed Forces individual military decoration that may be awarded for bravery, acts of merit, or meritorious service.
He has been awarded the Purple Heart Medal, which is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those who have been wounded or killed while serving on or after April 5, 1917 with the U.S. military.
He has been awarded the Good Conduct Medal, which is awarded to any active-duty enlisted member of the United States military who completes three consecutive years of “honorable and faithful service”.
He was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, originally called the Distinguished Unit Citation. It is awarded to units of the Armed Forces of the United States and allies for extraordinary heroism in action against an armed enemy on or after 7 December 1941 (the date of the Attack on Pearl Harbor and the start of American involvement in World War II).
He was also awarded the Battlefield Commission Medal, Korean War Service Medal for fighting in three major campaigns and the Combat Infantry Medal.
Recently, Mr. Head also received an honor by the Logan County Fiscal Court with a Proclamation honoring him for his service in the United States Army, 1st Calvary Division serving 22 months in Korea where he was seriously wounded by an enemy mortar in October of 1951 and was returned to combat soon after. Magistrate Jo Orange, his good friend, read the order that declared Tuesday, June 26, 2012, as Walter Boyd Head Day in Logan County.
Walter is just one of many that have sacrificed their lives both on the battlefields and off when returning home changed after fighting for freedom. A lot of times we forget what those men and women have done, even though we may live right next door to them or even share a church pew together.
“I would do it again,” said Walter even though he carries with him the unimaginable every day of his life.
Walter says he has no regrets, “I love this country and what it stands for,” added one of the many heroes that just see themselves as doing their job.