Archive for Thursday, September 22, 2005

An honor awaits

Family of Korean War vet seeks medal promised

September 22, 2005

May God bless you and I will be careful...

In small, chicken scratch handwriting, those were among the final words the late Daniel McGraw, a soldier fighting in the Korean War, left with family members in a letter addressed August 31, 1951.

Little did McGraw -- a 1946 graduate of Basehor High School and a namesake in the Bonner Springs-Edwardsville Veteran's of Foreign Wars post -- know that acts of self-preservation and heroism rarely, if ever, coincide.

Three days after McGraw wrote the last words family members would hear from the son known prominently as "Dan Eddie," he broke his vow of safety and exchanged his life for that of another soldier.

"His death was caused by a hand grenade," wrote Roy Carse, executive officer of the 38th Army Infantry, on the late McGraw. "Without thinking of his own personal safety, he leaped upon a hand grenade to save the life of his comrade, who was in a foxhole with him. He was a great fighter and a wonderful trooper.

"He was a great inspiration to us all."

While some dub the Korean conflict, "the forgotten war," and soldiers who served in it have rarely received the notoriety of their World War II counterparts, McGraw's sacrifice didn't go unnoticed.

When his coffin, draped in an American flag, returned home in 1951, friends and family flocked to the McGraw family home to pay their respect.

A photograph of McGraw, displayed inside the text of an obituary notice that appeared in a local newspaper, announced to all that Daniel had passed and it seems most were listening. In the photograph, the soldier is shown in full uniform and beaming with the easy smile and warm personality that family members credit as being the driving forces behind his popularity.

Only after a two-day wake, and an endless sea of tears and tributes were paid to the late 22-year-old, could the family commence with burial services.

Honoring McGraw's service to country once again became a top priority, at least on the local level, earlier this month. VFW post veterans, as well as numerous friends and family, paid their respects to the fallen veteran during a ceremony at Bonner Springs cemetery.

Not everyone has been so forth coming in honoring him.

America's broken promise

McGraw's list of citations is a lengthy one.

According to military records, his hardware includes the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman's Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

However, it's an honor missing from the list that has family members searching for resolution today. According to records from 1951, a medal awaiting McGraw is the Distinguished Service Cross, which rates second only to the Congressional Medal of Honor in prominence.

McGraw's younger sister, Dorothy Miller said her family has never received the medal promised to her brother.

"We still have hope because we feel he deserves it," said Miller, Bonner Springs resident. "We want to know why he didn't get it."

Miller and her brother, Gene McGraw, also of Bonner Springs, said they have been working with Congressman Dennis Moore to acquire what's owed to their fallen family member.

"Everything is on hold," Miller said. "It's just something they don't call a priority."

Gene McGraw said the military's oversight is an example of Korean veterans, like his brother, not receiving their due praise.

"Think about World War II ... everybody honors them," he said. "Think about Korea and Vietnam, who honors them?"

Fighting family

Like all men in the McGraw family, when America came calling for help, "Dan Eddie" answered. Though he was drafted into the Army, Miller said her brother would have fought for his country regardless.

The tradition was certainly there: McGraw's father, Henry, fought in World War I and Eva McGraw fought back tears as she watched all seven of her sons leave home for overseas campaigns.

"He went because he was very, very patriotic," Miller said. "I guess you could say it ran in the family."

On the surface, McGraw's heroism 54 years ago appears extraordinary; to his family, though, McGraw's action seemed fairly typical.

"He always thought of everybody but himself," Dorothy Miller said. "All through high school he was always the one who would make peace. He was what you'd call a (mediator)."

The McGraw family didn't receive news of Daniel's death until nearly a month after he was killed. On Sept. 25, two uniformed officers delivered a telegram to the family home.

Family members had feared something had gone tragically wrong for Daniel after they hadn't received one of his trademark letters for several weeks. The telegram delivered to Eva confirmed their worst fears.

"He wrote home almost every day," Miller said. "He would always ask somebody to pray for him. ... Mother sensed something was wrong."

Today, the McGraw family chain remains nearly intact as all nine of Daniel's brothers and sisters are alive and well. However, reminders that one sibling is absent, that the chain is one length short, is enough to bring tears to the eyes of survivors.

Miller, while holding Daniel's last letter, said her brother's death is just as difficult to handle today as it was more than five decades ago.

"I tell you, it does me all I can do to look at this," she said.

Last words

McGraw's final letters home, written in short, neat prose, are neither joyful nor sad, but hint that the author's attention was focused on the task at hand.

He spared his mother and father of grisly combat details and instead focused on the pleasant features of a land foreign to him. He wrote that Korea was "just like the pictures you see: one mountain after another."

He also told his parents that he'd tended to spiritual matters by going to confession and accepting communion and vowed that he would attend church "every chance I get."

In keeping with character, McGraw, who family members said was always concerned about others, inquired often in his letters about friends and family living a world away.

And, though he had an opportunity to leave the war as a hardship discharge, McGraw confirmed his patriotism by indicating that he was most needed among his fellow soldiers.

"It probably sounds like I really want to get out of here, (but) that isn't the case," he wrote. "I wouldn't want anyone to think I'm a slacker."

And with these words, which are among his last, Daniel McGraw -- he of the easy smile, gregarious humor and loving soul -- said goodbye to his loved ones forever.

"It's getting kind of dark, so I'd better sign this off," he wrote. "I will try and write more tomorrow night if I get a chance. Don't worry too much about me and may God bless and protect you."

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