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Marine's 65-year long wait for medal for valor is over

By CAROLE CARLSON | Post-Tribune, Merrillville, Ind. | Published: November 9, 2019

MERRILLVILLE, Ind. (Tribune News Service) — In 1951, Eugene "Geno" Ward joined the Marines as war raged across the Korean peninsula.

Ward, now 85, recalled dropping out of school in 9th grade after a disciplinary skirmish with school officials.

When he was 17, Ward saw his best friend, Joe Krasno, an Army soldier, come home from Korea in a box. "He was killed in May. I joined in June," he said, in part to atone for the loss of his friend.

Ward volunteered for a risky job when he landed in Korea. "I trained in demolitions. I looked for land mines on patrol."

When he got off the boat in Korea after training at Camp Pendleton, he found out demolition teams made $50 more a month. He was sold, despite the danger.

Ward trekked ahead of his unit, serving as the tip of the spear in battle zones near the 38th Parallel. At night, that meant he was on hands and knees looking for prongs buried in the dirt that signified a land mine.

He wore a string of safety pins on his vest sent from home by his grandmother. He placed them through a pin on the mines to lock them so they wouldn't discharge and his patrol could safely pass, he said.

Marines taped off the mine-free area, but Ward said North Koreans often snuck in at night and moved the tape.

Ward waited 65 years for his recognition.

With help from U.S. Rep. Peter J. Visclosky, D-Gary, Ward finally received his medal of commendation with valor in September. The "V" on the medal recognizes heroism in combat.

Ward, who's a member of the Merrillville Police Commission and a Democratic precinct committeeman, displays the medal in a case in his ranch home.

His most harrowing experience involved setting off demolition charges on wooden bridges destroyed by a flooded river.

If Ward couldn't blow up the wooden bridges, they likely would have damaged or destroyed the pontoon bridges Marines used to traverse the river.

Ward rode with a PT boat captain and tossed his charges at the wooden bridges in the roiling river.

"I'd throw them from the boat in the flood, it would blow the timbers," he said. "It wasn't like you see in the movies."

A glitch in military records derailed Ward from receiving his medal. For some reason, military officials considered him a Vietnam veteran, despite his claims otherwise.

"I was honored to be able to assist Private First Class Arthur "Geno" Ward obtain his commendation medal for his service in the Korean War," said Visclosky.

He said other veterans should contact his Merrillville office for assistance to secure or replace a military medal.

Ward left the Marines unscathed in 1954 and returned to Gary to work the in the Budd Corp., a metal stamping plant.

He met his wife Lucille at the Caribou Lounge in Gary's Tolleston neighborhood. They married in 1958 and raised three sons. They left Gary for Merrillville in 1995. Lucille died three years ago.

"Pete is tops in helping veterans," said Ward who said he's supported Visclosky throughout the congressman's 35-year career representing the First Congressional District.

"Everybody didn't get this medal. This shows appreciation for what you've done. I have no idea why I didn't get it so long ago."

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