By SHERRY VAN ARSDALL
THE GOSHEN NEWS
GOSHEN — It took 62 years for Dick Sleppy to reveal the extent of his involvement in the Korean War. He said he was told not to talk about it. But he’s talking now.
“I am 82 years old,” Sleppy, a Goshen resident, said on Sunday. “I may not be here tomorrow.”
Sleppy, a Goshen native, was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1951. He was shipped to Fort Riley in Kansas for basic training. About halfway through he got blood poisoning and spent 10 days in the hospital and had to start basic training from the beginning after he was given a clean bill of health.
When he came home on leave for Christmas in December 1951, Sleppy said he got paperwork to report for duty in Anchorage, Alaska.
“I was going from Seattle (Wash.) to Anchorage,” he said. “It was cold. We took a train. It reminded me of an old Western type train, and they dropped us off in the middle of the night (sometime in February 1952).
From there, Sleppy was flown to Japan where his company then picked up a schooner to get to Korea.
“When I got to the destination, it was with the 36th Engineer Combat Group,” Sleppy said. “I was assigned to ‘Scout’ and their orders were to blow up stuff behind enemy lines that planes couldn’t get to. I had a Jeep available to carry up stuff that they needed to blow up equipment with. I was told they ‘just blow up stuff.’”
Even six decades later, Sleppy still shudders when he talks about the Chinese. China intervened in the conflict on behalf of North Korea.
“The Chinese were night fighters and were good at it,” Sleppy said. “They used bugles and whistles for communication. The hair on the back of your neck would stand up if you heard those sounds. You knew what was coming.”
It was during a mission of rescuing American prisoners of war when the unexpected happened and Sleppy’s tour was cut short.
“I was told to take the rescued prisoners for aid because they were wounded and I had a Jeep,” he recalled. “I had been warned before to take certain roads and trails and avoid or stay off certain roads because of mines. I was told to stay off this one road and forgot it was a mine road. It would have been marked but I didn’t see any marks that it was. There was a tank in the road that hit a mine and I hit a mine and I got blown out of the Jeep and hit against the tank. My knee was hurt the worst.”
He said his elbows and other parts of his body were bruised from the impact.
“It was the last thing I remember until I woke up in a hospital in Seoul and it was my 21st birthday,” he said. “I was in Korea for three months before being sent back to Seattle. I got back on my feet with the help of corpsman there, then I was sent back to where I was originally supposed to be in Anchorage. I ended up in the motor pool. It was a good job and better than what I had done.”
Sleppy said he doesn’t recall ever firing a shot behind enemy lines. He spent some time in Denver with the Reserves before being discharged in 1953.
“I knew I had to go but I didn’t want to go,” he said of Korea. “I did what I was told.”
Now he helps honor veterans that have passed away as a member of VFW Post 985 Honor Guard.
Sleppy became a member of the honor guard in 1995 after he retired. He is in charge of taking care of the weapons the guard uses for its 21-rifle salutes.
“I’m proud of what I’ve done (in the military),” Sleppy said. “I guess I am one of many that made a difference.”