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Businessman receives Army medals 57 years after combat

By Curt Yeomans

cyeomans@news-daily.com

Leroy York was awarded the United States Army's Bronze Star in 1950 for his Korean War service.

He didn't receive the award -- along with several others -- until Dec. 20, 2007.

York, who now lives and works in Morrow, was presented the Bronze Star, National Defense Service award, United Nations Service award, the Republic of Korea Korean Service award, U.S. Army Korea Service award, and a combat infantry badge by Gen. Steve Whitcomb, the former commander of the U.S. Third Army.

York said that receiving the honors --even though delayed -- felt "pretty good."

He said he still feels his greatest accomplishment was fighting the North Korean Army in the 1950s'.

"We kept it [Communism] from spreading south," York said. "I guess we did our job."

York received the medals at his business, the Your Way Barber Shop in Morrow, with his wife, Betsy, their three children and three grandchildren looking on. The awards, which came in a frame provided by the Army, now hang on the wall in a corner of York's shop, near a Korean War poster.

Whitcomb, who is a neighbor of Leroy York's son, Larry, didn't know why the medals weren't presented to the elder York 57 years ago. He found out about the error while talking with Larry York one day.

Larry York told Whitcomb about his father's service in the Third Army's Task Force Smith, the first group of soldiers sent into South Korea following the North Korean invasion in 1950. The younger York also told Whitcomb in October that the elder York had been awarded the U.S. Army's Bronze Star, but never received the medal.

Whitcomb went looking through old personnel records, and found that Leroy York had, indeed, been awarded several medals, but never received any of them. The general put in paperwork with the Army, and finally got permission from his superiors to present the medals earlier this month.

"This is an opportunity to come down [from Fort McPherson] and represent the secretary of the Army in honoring Mr. York's service to his country," Whitcomb said. "This is a big opportunity for us. Korean War veterans are like World War II veterans in that they are starting to become few and far between."

Leroy York didn't know any of this was going on until a week before the presentation ceremony. After finding out about the awards, the elder York's mind was filled with thoughts of his former comrades. His battalion lost more than 500 men in the first seven days of the Korean War, Whitcomb said. The battalion lost nearly 1,000 men in the entire war.

The war has haunted him since he left the Army in 1954, and he's reluctant to talk about it. His grandson, Landon, 27, who currently lives in McDonough, said the elder York has "probably said less than 15 words about it [the war] during my entire life.

"I've always been interested in knowing more about his service in Korea, so this [watching the presentation ceremony] is really interesting to me. I just couldn't bring myself to ask him questions about it in the past. How could you ask someone about that sort of thing?"

As a result of the flooding memories, Leroy York was filled with mixed emotions on the day he received his medals.

"It brings back memories, both the good and the bad," he said.

Whitcomb said the United States learned a lesson from the experience faced by York and Task Force Smith in the Korean War's early days. "They were undermanned and ill-equipped to fight the North Koreans, but they were stationed in Japan, and they were the closest soldiers we had," Whitcomb said

. "Imagine the Atlanta summer heat and climbing up a mountain, shooting at your enemy, climbing down the mountain, taking cover, then doing it all over again. That's what they faced on a daily basis.

"The message is we can never go unprepared again. We can never send unarmed men and women in to harms way, again."