I recently had the opportunity and honor to sit down with retired US Navy Corpsman and Vietnam veteran Gene Korus. Gene is 73 and living with his wife in the suburbs of Chicago. He comes from a family of American heroes; his father served in the army under General George S. Patton during WWII, and his uncle, also an army veteran, was part of D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Gene, a local kid from Chicago, decided to enlist in the US Navy, becoming a Corpsman, which translates to medic in civilian terms. He did his Navy training at Great Lakes, and his combat medic training at Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. In March 1969, Gene was deployed to a village 20 miles southwest of Da Nang, Vietnam. He was then attached to a unit in the “Combine Action Program,” which consisted of about 14 Marines and about 25 “Popular Force” (local Vietnamese militia) soldiers. Their job was to protect the local villages from the Vietcong forces, as well as help rebuild schools, buildings, and other various civic duties.
As the only medic in the unit, Gene decided to teach one of the Marines some basic combat medic skills if he was killed or wounded in combat. He was struck by shrapnel across his face in combat, but never put in for a Purple Heart. He knew injuries were a part of war, but when he was at a medical ward with the wounded soldiers, he knew that his injuries were minor compared to those soldiers whose bodies were shredded from combat.
Gene is very humble, which speaks volumes to his character. As a combat veteran, I understood exactly what he was saying about not believing he deserved a Purple Heart. Veterans like Gene deserve every bit of credit and recognition, though. He told me about the ambushes that he’d endured, as well as the hours-long battles that kept him awake most nights in Vietnam. But, those are only the terrible parts of his time in combat. His proudest moments, and what stuck with him the most, are all the efforts that his unit put into giving the Vietnamese people brand new buildings, schools, hospital, and more. That’s what he wants his time in Nam to be remembered as.
To this day, Gene has kept in contact with his buddies from his unit; some have passed on, and some are still fortunate to be alive. When I asked about some of the militia soldiers to whom he’d become close, he said they were likely either put to death or reeducated after the US had pulled out of Vietnam. Every chance he gets, he takes part in the honor flight to Washington DC’s Vietnam and WWI & II memorial walls. This is to honor his fallen brothers/sisters and to help a veteran heal.
Major Dick Winters once said, “I’m no hero but I served alongside a few.” Although I didn’t serve with Gene, it was an honor and a pleasure to have been able to call him a brother in arms and just be able to sit down and share a table with him. To my new friend, and an idol to look up to, I’d just like to say on behalf of the United States, thank you for your service.