Veteran Salute: Korean War vet gets medals nearly 70 years after service

Veteran Salute

EUREKA, Kan. (KSNW) – Recognition decades in the making for a Eureka veteran.

Korean War Veteran Gene Sprague was drafted in 1953 and was eventually on what was called the Kansas line, just behind the main line of resistance.

“I took a lot of pictures,” he said.

He hasn’t looked at all the slides he captured for 50 years.

“We all raised our right hand and stepped forward,” Sprague said.

The troops were part of the 25th Infantry Division.

During basic, he said they would use plot boards and the forward observer would report back to them.

“We would plot the correct settings for the guns,” Sprague said. “We could fire one gun, or we could fire six guns.”

He said if the entire battalion fired, there were 18.

Sprague said after they graduated he became part of recon. It was a command and leadership school, staged out of California.

He said in no time, they were headed for Japan.

“They were getting everyone they possibly could into the pipeline,” Sprague said. “The Korean War wasn’t going that well.”

Once they arrived in Japan, they were always on alert.

“The loud speaker came on and says fall out,” Sprague said.

They eventually docked at the Port of Pusan.

“The tornadoes that went through here, looked good, compared to what I could see,” Sprague said.

He said the devastation was everywhere.

“The fighting lowered the total elevation of Korea, six feet,” Sprague said.

The war also took many lives, and Sprague witnessed the toll when he took a wrong turn one day.

“I just stopped, that’s all you see is little white crosses, up the mountain,” Sprague said. “I knew that a soldier had given his life.”

It was Sprague’s typing skills that landed him the role as the company clerk, but he wanted to go to the motor pool.

“He said you find me another person who can type, and you can go to the motor pool,” Sprague said.

That’s where things really took off for miles and miles.

“Twenty four hours a day, anyone, any place, anywhere,” Sprague said.

At one time, he drove for a major, who required him to bring writing materials.

“While he was in a meeting or some place, you would write letters home,” Sprague said.

He said the major would then mail them for the soldiers, and when he drove for the Regimental Commander, he learned the brass had no interest in signing his own trip tickets.

He said he signed one and made it very clear to Sprague that would be the last.

“I got to the point, that I could make a pretty good signature of his,” Sprague said.

He also spent time in an athletic and recreation platoon.

“The whole thing was operating out of tents,” Sprague said.

That didn’t stop him from giving the soldiers a place to play.

“We leveled a rice patty, and I drove miles and miles around that, making it into a ball field,” Sprague said.

The team even got a visit from Marilyn Monroe, and the team wanted to give her one of their warm-up jackets.

“Our warm-up jackets did not fit Marilyn,” Sprague said. “They just put them over her shoulder, they wouldn’t come together.”

Sprague was also sent to projector school, so they could show movies.

“Our theater was the hill come down, there was a little place here, and we had set sandbags all the way around this, for seats,” Sprague said.

He said it was all about giving the soldiers a taste a home, a place the troops were so thankful to return to.

“When we passed under the Golden Gate Bridge and looked up, we knew we were home,” Sprague said.

He said when they returned a helicopter dropped 10,000 orchids on their ship.

“They processed us just as quick as they could, and they didn’t issue any medals,” Sprague said.

Decades went by before Sprague started looking into how to get this hardware.

“This is really, really something to get this after all these years,” Sprague said.

In a special ceremony at the same VFW, Sprague finally got the recognition he earned.

“It brought back a lot of memories,” Sprague said.

One year after he landed in a warzone, he was headed back out to the harbor for his journey home.

Sprague continued to drive when the soldiers got back to Hawaii.

He said he would wear his uniform to drop the colonel off at the Royal Hawaiian, then he would put on his aloha shirt for a little fun, before changing back into uniform to pick up the colonel.

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