07/11/04 — After 51 years, veteran has his war medals

View Archive

After 51 years, veteran has his war medals

By Sam Atkins
Published in News on July 11, 2004 2:02 AM

Frank Ingram had spent 15 months as a rifleman in the Korean War and was ready to return to home soil in 1953.

A ceremony was held for Ingram and the other men of the Item Company, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division, to give them their medals and thank them for their service to the United States. He was awarded three medals -- the Purple Heart, United Nations Service Medal and Good Conduct Medal.

Following the ceremony, he and over 4,000 other Marines loaded up their belongings on trucks and traveled down to a port in South Korea to board a ship headed to San Francisco. The trucks were scheduled to arrive at the port shortly after they did. The items were then supposed to be loaded on the ship and stored until the Marines arrived back home.

After waiting for an hour, the trucks still had not arrived. Ingram, a Calypso native, and the others did not have their bags, which included their clothing and medals. Today, he still does not know what happened to the trucks and for over 51 years, his medals have been unaccounted for.

Ingram, 71, suffered several injuries during the war. He remembers being ambushed by North Koreans while in a trench on a hill called Bowling City. They threw grenades and fired all around him and he had wounds to his left arm and wrist. He still has pieces of shrapnel in his forehead.

He crawled out of the trench and a medical technician drug him into a bunker and applied bandages to stop the bleeding and gave him some medication. The next thing he remembers is being aboard a hospital ship named the U.S.S. Hope for 10 days receiving treatment.

After the Marines arrived back to San Francisco, many of them only had clothing given to them by the unit's Casual Company. Ingram wrote down a list of things he was missing and gave it to the first sergeant, who said he would turn the list in and the items would be replaced. He waited, but the medals remained lost.

Ingram was then transferred to Parris Island, S.C., and continued his efforts to get the medals. He received another promise in 1955 from someone that he would get them back. Time was running out because Ingram was getting ready to retire from the Marines three weeks later. He still did not receive them.

After retiring, he moved to New York and wrote letters to veterans groups and to the Department of Navy explaining the situation and trying to make headway in his fight for the medals.

He moved to Wayne County in 1991 and started working even harder to find the right person to contact. He sent over 30 letters and received either no response or a letter back with another person or organization to contact.

"I had given up on the medals," he said.

Ingram found support from the V.A. Hospital in Durham, where he frequently goes for health checkups. The hospital encouraged him to write the Department of Veteran Affairs. It began to seem more realistic that the medals would be sent.

On June 28, Ingram's wife, Johnnie, came home from work and noticed a package in the mail from the Department of Navy. Ingram immediately knew what it was.

"I thought, there are my medals, there are my medals!" he said.

He called Pastor Louis Leigh of The First African Baptist Church and gave him the good news. Ingram is heavily involved in the church and Leigh is pleased that the medals -- Korean Service Medal, U.N. Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Good Conduct Medal, Korean President Unit Citation (pin) and the Purple Heart -- have returned to the man who earned them.

"Good things happen to good people," said Leigh.