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William P. Earlywine was one of 220 American soldiers who entered a 21-day battle during the Korean War, and one of only 20 who survived it.
Earlywine, 81, was with a Special Forces unit during the war, charged with a northern push that covered 100 miles in just three weeks.
Not only were 200 of the men killed, the 20 who survived were wounded, including Earlywine, who received a Purple Heart following the campaign.
On Sunday, Earlywine and veterans across Anderson County were honored for their service with a Veterans Day ceremony at American Legion Post 34, along with a catered dinner sponsored by three local churches.
“It was 1951 when I went over there,” Earlywine said following the ceremony in Patriot Hall. “I was with the 35th Regional Combat Team.
“Even though the 20 of us who survived were wounded, we regrouped and formed a new unit.”
Earlywine said the memories of seeing so many of his fellow soldiers killed during that campaign live on, even after more than five decades.
“They say that it will go away over time, but I still have times I need to go off by myself for an hour or two.
“I’m not feeling sorry for myself, but even after 50 years it still comes back. You never forget your fallen comrades.”
Earlywine was joined by dozens of other veterans and their families during the ceremony, which featured heart-touching stories about brave soldiers who have overcome incredible injuries.
Post Commander Bobby Thornberry related a story about a veteran who lost both legs and an arm while serving in the Middle East.
Thornberry said the man was depressed and refused to do rehabilitation exercises. He said a friend called and invited the veteran to an Indianapolis Colts game, provided he continued on afterward with his rehab.
Thornberry said the owner of the Colts, Jim Irsay, heard the injured vet would be at the game, and took time to meet him that day.
Thornberry said Irsay told the vet that when he was able to leave the hospital, he would send his private jet to fly him home, and then give him a job working with the Colts.
Irsay lived up to his word, Thornberry said, and the veteran now works in the teams public relations department.
Thornberry said the lesson of the story is that we should never be afraid to reach out to an injured vet, regardless the injury he or she has suffered.
“Don’t be scared,” Thornberry said. “Thank him and tell him how much you love him. It means so much, and we should give the veterans the recognition they deserve.”
Another speaker was Sgt. Travis Huber, a reservist who served in Iraq from 2006 to 2007.
Huber said while serving as a combat medic on a forward operating theater, a friend of his lost both legs.
“He said, ‘Don’t mess with me, doc, make sure my Marines are squared away first,’” Huber said.
He added that later on, the Marine sent a letter saying the he received new legs and that the Corps will let him continue to serve.
The ceremony also included remarks by Auxiliary President Pam Rice, an opening and closing prayer by Unit 34 Chaplain Delores Mefford, and a POW/MIA ceremony performed by Thornberry and Post 34 member Bobby Cubert.
The meal was provided by Open Bible Church, Family Worship Center and New Life Christian Church, and catered by A Family Affair restaurant in Salvisa.
New Life Pastor Vern Huber said his church wanted to be involved to show its support for veterans.
“There needs to be more support,” he said. “We also need to remember the fellows and gals who fought in Vietnam, the Gulf War, Iraq and Afghanistan,” he said.
Tony Andrade, pastor of Family Worship Center, said his church’s involvement is part of its ongoing outreach efforts.
“We felt like, what better way to show our love for our veterans,” he said.
Jeff Tyler, pastor of Open Bible, said participating is a sign of appreciation.
“We really wanted to honor our veterans and to appreciate the service they have provided our country by keeping us free,” he said.
“We are blessed to be a part of this.”
E-mail Ben Carlson at email@example.com.