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REMEMBERING . . . Melvin Duvall

Late veteran of 'Forgotten War' received Purple Heart for his service


BY MARLENE BROWNING WAINSCOTT

Sweet Owen Contributor


Melvin Duvall served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War in the 25th Division/35th Regimental Combat Team (RCT) from 1951 to 1953. He was born and raised in Owenton and was one of four brothers: John Porter or "J.P.," Morris, and Hugh. Each of Melvin's brothers served during World War II, and when Melvin became of age, it was his turn to serve his country as well.

"I left here on a Greyhound bus," Melvin recalled. "There was another boy from here on the bus from Owen County. His name was Charles Scott, but we always called him 'Chug.' We went to Cincinnati to be inducted, and after that, we were separated. I never saw him anymore until we came back home. I went to basic training at Fort Indiantown Gap in Pennsylvania, and from there, we boarded a ship called the General Gaffey to Korea."

Duvall carried the Browning Automatic Rifle (BAR) during his combat time. Army infantry squads were usually organized around a single BAR. Due to the large amounts of ammunition that the rifle used, the BAR shooter and his loader had high demands. The loader always had to stay in close contact with the shooter to be able to feed the ammunition.

"No one wanted to carry the BAR," he said. "They were after anyone carrying it. They would try to take you out if they could. My lieutenant said I was a really good shot. I told him I had grown up on a farm and was used to shooting a gun. Within a few weeks, they promoted me to Private First Class and then a few weeks after that, they promoted me to Corporal."


In the Punchbowl


The area where Duvall and his division spent most of their time was in and around the Punchbowl near the Mundung-ni Valley. The Punchbowl was a large bowl-shaped land area close to the 38th parallel and an important area during the war. Following the breakdown of armistice negotiations in 1951, the United Nations launched an offensive to acquire better defensive terrain and deny the opposing forces key vantage points. Duvall's division entered the frontlines right after the Battle of Bloody Ridge (west of the Punchbowl) and the Battle of Heartbreak Ridge (northwest of the Punchbowl).

"It was always cold and rainy, which made those ridges so slick," Duvall remembered. "You would get to a certain point and just slide back down, which made things extremely difficult and dangerous.

"The Punchbowl was a large crater that was surrounded by mountain terrain. We didn't know where we were going. It was pitch black dark, the mountains were straight up, and the guns were flashing everywhere. I said to myself, 'Oh boy, what in the hell have you gotten yourself into?' I saw our (company officer). He was a tough-looking guy. So, I thought, 'Well, this man here is the leader, and he is the only one who knows where he is going, so I am going wherever he goes.' So, he headed up to the top of the mountain, and I followed right behind him. I was packing about 100 lbs. with all my gear, which included my field pack, the BAR, M1, ammo, extra parts, and half of a machine gun. I only weighed 137 lbs. but was in really good shape. We were on a finger of a ridge. After we would establish, we would move up; then we would move back; then they would move up and then back. We did that day in and day out. After we established the 38th parallel, then we would do night patrol."

Duvall was on the frontlines for approximately six months. His division patrolled the front line and defended the main line of resistance.

"One night, our squad got split up," he said. "They started opening fire on us. Our Sergeant said, 'Let's go, boys! Let's get out of here.' Well, I couldn't move or respond because I knew there were hostiles all around me. They couldn't see me. I waited them out until I knew they were far enough away. Everybody else had checked in. When I finally made it back, they asked where in the world I had been. I simply told them I got detained."

Duvall received a Purple Heart after being hit by hostile fire while trying to get to soldiers and tanks that were sunk in the boggy rice paddy fields.

While tanks played an integral part in World War I and World War II, they were faced with challenging terrain in Korea. Their advancement often came to an abrupt halt when they tried to pass through the rice paddy fields. The tanks would sink, making them targets for hostile fire.

"They guarded our tanks heavily, but we were determined to try to get our soldiers or, at the very least, bring their dog tags home. I was hit in the eye with mortar shrapnel. They took me to a field hospital, and in two days, I was back on the line."

While Duvall served on the frontlines in Korea, his mother passed away.

"My mom passed away while I was over there," Duvall said. "I didn't get to come home. I was on the front lines. I suppose they tried, but I didn't find out until later."


After the Front Lines


"After I had been on the line for six months, they told me they were sending me to Japan as a Cadre, a person that briefs and trains the new recruits on what to expect while they are over there," he said. "I never did imagine when I was growing up that I would ever do anything like that. It made me grow up quicker than anything I ever could have done. I could have never gotten up in front of somebody and talked about a subject before I went over there and did that. I gave classes one right after another."


Going Home


"I was giving a class one day about tactics, and a guy came in and said, 'Get your gear together, Duvall, you're going home!' I looked at everyone in the room and said, 'Have a good life, boys!' They all clapped, cheered, and said, 'You do the same.' We came back on a ship called the General Pope, went right under the Golden Gate Bridge, and then, I headed home to Kentucky.

"I came back to Kentucky during Eisenhower's presidency. There were no jobs. The only jobs were on the river with Ashland Oil, so that's where I headed."

Brad Keith, a fellow Owen countian in Korea with Duvall, went with him to seek a job with Ashland Oil.

"I was first mate on the boat. I steered the boat if the captain had to be away for a while. I traveled the Mississippi, the Ohio, and even the Intercoastal Canal that went all the way to Houston, Texas, for seven years."

Duvall married Shirley Perkins and came back to Owen County.

"I bought a farm and worked over in Williamstown at the plastic factory. Then, I went into real estate with Larry Pierson for over 10 years in the '60s and '70s. Later, I sold real estate part-time and worked at Toyota in Georgetown. I tried a whole lot of different things. There wasn't a whole lot of money in some of them, but it sure was educational."

Duvall recalled his time in Korea: "I lived a charmed life while I was over there. I was lucky, I guess. I never really was afraid. The only time I was scared was the first night when we started up that hill. I didn't know where we were or where we were going. I was praying for daylight. When daylight came, I was never scared anymore."

Duvall received the rank of Sergeant during his time in service and received several commendations, including the Purple Heart.

June 25 marked 74 years since the beginning of the Korean War, which is often called the Forgotten War, in which almost 40,000 Americans died, and more than 100,000 were wounded. The war, which ended in July 1953, will not be forgotten by those who fought there or the families they left behind. Owen County had many boys representing their community and country during the war.


This story was written in 2018 by Sweet Owen contributor Marlene Browning Wainscott. Melvin Duvall, who passed away at the age of 89 on Dec. 10, 2019, is remembered and honored for his service. We extend our gratitude to Duvall and all those who have bravely served our country to protect our freedoms. Owen County veterans are encouraged to share their stories with Browning Wainscott to preserve these crucial moments in our country's history. If you would like to share your story, please email editor@sweetowenmag.com.

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