There is nothing joyful about war. So why am I writing about it on a blog called If It Brings You Joy? Because I want to tell you about my dad and a small bit of his incredibly courageous war experience. He fought in the Korean War and miraculously made it home alive…less one leg, but alive. My father was awarded the *Bronze Star for outstanding action in Korea, and he also was awarded the **Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.
My dad never talked a lot about the war unless someone asked questions, and then he was happy to tell his stories. Several years back I asked my dad lots of questions and briefly documented his story of his last battle…the battle in which he lost his leg. I’m thankful I captured the details because he is now 87, and his memory is not what it used to be.
On this Veterans Day, I’m sharing my dad’s story about the day he got “hit” in Korea. It’s also the day he earned the Bronze Star because he saved another soldier’s life. My dad never made a big deal out of it, but today I’m going to make a big deal of it because I’m proud to be his daughter. Here’s his story.
Korean War: Battle on Jane Russell Hill
In November of 1951, my Dad entered the U.S. Army to serve in the Korean War. He served as a machine gunner in the 32nd Infantry regiment, 7th Infantry Division. He later served as a cook in the morning because the cooks were killed. After cooking breakfast, he fought all day and night…sleeping only a couple hours per day.
On October 23, 1952, Private First Class James W. Bleier was wounded in action as his infantry fought a battle on Jane Russell Hill in North Korea. It was dark, winter cold, and possibly around 1am. They were trying to take the hill, but the enemy had too much fire power. His sergeant ordered 50 men, one being my Dad, to go back down the hill, sneak through the enemy lines and go up the enemy side. The enemy would then have to turn some of their men around to shoot at the 50 men coming up their side of the hill, allowing the U.S. side to take the hill.
My Dad knew and even told his sergeant that it would be a suicide mission, but he followed orders. (That sergeant did not go with his men, he stayed back in safety.) Of course, all 50 men were hit by enemy fire. My Dad’s right leg was hit and he was seriously wounded in action. He would lose his right leg above the knee. He put on a tourniquet, and crawled down the hill.
On the way down, he found a fellow soldier on his back severely wounded and unable to move. My dad courageously moved himself and dragged his buddy to the bottom of the hill. Although he doesn’t know who that man was because it was so dark, he later found out that they were the only two of the 50 men to survive the mission. My Dad remembers that one of the first thoughts he had after being hit was “I’m finally going to get some sleep!”
At the bottom of the hill, a personnel tank came to rescue my Dad and the other wounded soldier, and took them to a first aid tent. My Dad waited quite a while outside the tent before being cared for, as a few hundred men were wounded at that time. He heard a lot of moaning. From the initial first aid tent, he was transported in a jeep while on a stretcher to another Army medical station. A day or two after that, he was transported by helicopter to a hospital in Tokyo, Japan.
After being wounded in action, a few celebrities visited Jim in the Tokyo Army Hospital, including General Mark W. Clark and his wife, Maurine; and the famous actor Cary Grant and his wife, Betty Drake Grant.
* “The Bronze Star Medal, unofficially the Bronze Star, is a United States decoration awarded to members of the United States Armed Forces for either heroic achievement, heroic service, meritorious achievement, or meritorious service in a combat zone.” (Source: Wikipedia Bronze Star Medal)
** “The Purple Heart is awarded to members of the armed forces of the U.S. who are wounded by an instrument of war in the hands of the enemy and posthumously to the next of kin in the name of those who are killed in action or die of wounds received in action. It is specifically a combat decoration. (Source: PurpleHeart.org)