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'Puts you right back there'
Korean War vet honored with trip to Washington
W with supporters at wwii memorial
Ledbetter stands with two supporters at the National World War II Memorial in Washington.

When the Rev. Carl E. Ledbetter, an 82-year-old Army veteran, walked through the Washington, D.C., memorial exhibits last month, he was mesmerized and moved by what he saw. But when he came upon the Korean War Veterans Memorial - his memorial - he was caught off guard.

"I did well until I got to mine, the Korean memorial," said Ledbetter. "I was anticipating the emotion, but it still took me by surprise."

With complete somberness, Ledbetter continued, "Puts you right back there, those men in the ponchos. You feel the rain, feel the cold, smell the gunpowder."

Those 19 stainless steel statues of men, 7 feet tall, represent a cross-section of an advance party trudging through rice paddies of Korea in full combat gear, wearing ponchos that covered their weapons and equipment, the ponchos appearing to blow in the cold wind.

Ledbetter was part of a group of veterans, mostly of World War II and the Korean War, but also few who served in Vietnam, that were honored recently with a weekend trip to Washington, D.C., by an organization called Honor Flight Savannah. The Honor Flight Network is a non-profit organization created solely to honor America's veterans for all their sacrifices. The group is comprised of volunteers who work to get as many WWII and Korean War veterans as possible to Washington to view the memorials dedicated to them.

Ledbetter was treated to that trip in October and said it was a top-notch experience. The group toured the National WWII Memorial, the National Museum of the U.S. Navy and the Navy Memorial, the Air Force Memorial, the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, the Arlington National Cemetery and the Changing of the Guard ceremony, the Marine Corps War Memorial (better known as the Iwo Jima Memorial), the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

"They really honor the veterans that they take," he said. "Each veteran has a guardian, a volunteer that sees to our every need."

With a chuckle, he added, "We couldn't even get our own water if we wanted it."

Jane Flack, a Metter resident and emergency room nurse at East Georgia Regional Medical Center, was Ledbetter's guardian. Flack and her husband have served as guardians on six trips with Honor Flight.

"It's our job to make sure the veteran has a good experience, helping with meals or medications, to take pictures for them. We're told in our guardian training that it's all about the veteran. It's not about you; it's his experience. And it's such an honor to be with the vets, to hear their stories."

Flack spoke highly of her time with Ledbetter.

"Mr. Ledbetter is such a dear man. I could tell he felt deeply about the memorials," she said. "He seemed surprised that people were honoring them this way. He said, 'It's just kind of what we did back then.' Mr. Ledbetter was humble like that."

Humble, indeed. Bowing his head just a bit when the word "hero" was mentioned, Ledbetter said, "I didn't feel like I deserved all that."

In fact, he feels honored to have served his country.

"I volunteered. I asked for everything that I did," he said.

Ledbetter enlisted on June 16, and the Korean War began June 25. His was on Korean soil from December 1951 until January 1953.

"What I did over there was classified, top secret," he said. "In the early part of '52, they came asking for a noncommissioned officer to lead a special team up front, and I volunteered. Our little team was attached to several combat units that came and went. The Turkish Brigade - that was the most interesting. We stayed on one hill. One night, we thought we were going to get pushed back, but we didn't."

Ledbetter said he doesn't ever remember feeling like he wouldn't come home.

"I was 19 at the time, celebrated my 20th birthday on the ship coming home. I was young and crazy. I did some foolish things. I don't know why I didn't get killed, like the time I wound up lost in no man's land, without a helmet, when I went with my commanding officer to look for someone."

But many didn't come home. During the relatively short time of the war, 36,574 Americans died in hostile actions.

Ledbetter said that at the time, he didn't realize how much the war was affecting him.

"I don't know where I'd be without my little experience in the Army - but I did come home with a little something. We didn't know it then, but now they call it PTSD."

He said he had night traumas for 25 years - "the same old recurring dream."

With obvious sadness, Ledbetter explained, "The worst thing, to me, over there was seeing what was happening to the civilians, especially the starving children. I was glad to go up to the front.

"I have a special affinity for the Korean people," he continued. "I'd go again. I'd go today."

In fact, Ledbetter had the opportunity to return to Korea in 1978 on a preaching mission. He and his wife, Betty, made the trip. After the war, Ledbetter became a pastor and served in churches throughout South Georgia, including Gracewood Baptist Church in Statesboro. The Ledbetters have two children, four grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.

"It was the most wonderful thing in the world to go back," he said. "That helped me, to see the modern city. It gave me a lot of personal satisfaction to see the freedom they had - a modern, peaceful nation. It was truly a primitive place when I went there the first time."

The only problem he had the second time there was orientation; it had been rebuilt and changed so much that he couldn't find his way around.

"The first time, I knew that area like the back of my hand. It was a tremendous life then for a North Georgia hillbilly who'd barely been outside of the state."

 

 

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