Lawrence Dennis recalls jumping head-first into a foxhole as mortars exploded around him along the 38th Parallel between North and South Korea.
Only 17 years old, Dennis had been in Korea less than three months. On Oct. 4, 1951, his U.S. Army platoon was sent to take a hill occupied by North Korean and Chinese soldiers.
He didn’t see anything but heard the incoming mortar round, prompting his head-first dive.
“I shot at a hole but I didn’t have my foot down,” said Dennis, who was struck by shrapnel. “They took seven pieces of steel out of my ankle and heel.”
Dennis, a private second class, was evacuated to a field hospital and then sent to Japan before getting shipped stateside to a third hospital, in Colorado. He spent more than a year recuperating, then was discharged on Jan. 22, 1953.
On Tuesday, the 82-year-old Wilder resident was honored by U.S. Sen. Jim Risch. Although Dennis had already received a Purple Heart Medal, given to those injured in combat, he was never given several other medals and awards that he had earned but never received.
During a ceremony in Risch’s Downtown Boise office, the senator handed Dennis a replica of his Purple Heart, alongside a Korean Service Medal, a National Defense Service Medal, a United Nations Service Medal and a Combat Infantry Badge.
“Congratulations. That’s quite an honor of distinction,” Risch told Dennis and a dozen members of his family.
More than a year ago, an employee at the Boise VA Medical Center looked up the veteran’s service record during a visit. Dennis said he never received some of the medals and badges attributed to him.
Carol Collins, whose sister Nellie is married to Dennis, took it upon herself to research Dennis’ military record and obtain the missing accommodations.
“When he told us about it, he was very humble about it and happy, of course. I didn’t want let it stop there. I have a tendency to dig in things and started the paperwork going,” Collins said. “I pushed papers until it was done.”
Collins spent more than a year obtaining the proper documentation and submitting a claim to the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis.
It took so long because the records of Dennis and up to 18 million other veterans were destroyed in a 1973 fire at the military records repository. The records of 80 percent of Army veterans discharged between 1912 and 1960 were destroyed, as were those of 75 percent of Air Force personnel discharged between 1947 and 1964.
No duplicate copies of those documents were maintained, nor were they placed on microfilm, according to the National Archives.
Dennis grew up on a farm in Missouri. An older brother was already in the Army when he signed up. Dennis knew the recruiting officer and didn’t have to lie about his age.
“He signed me up with the papers I turned in. He said I’d do my basic training in Hawaii, of all places. That was before it was a state,” Dennis said, laughing.
Dennis and his wife moved to Idaho in 1956. He worked as a farm laborer on hop farms.
He said he never dwelled on his service or his injuries.
“I don’t think too much about it, really. I think I done my duty,” he said.