Nearly 60 years of silence ended when a class of juniors at Naselle-Grays River Valley High School had an assignment to interview local veterans in 2011.
Korean War veteran William Wuorinen soon found himself sharing with young people from his hometown. They heard a story which, he said, "I would have gladly taken to my grave."
Their conversation set in motion a chain of events that led to a moving ceremony this last week to honor his heroism witnessed in Korea so long ago.
Wuorinen was awarded the Silver Star on January 29 in front of a supportive crowd in the gymnasium of Naselle-Grays River Valley High School. Chairs and bleachers were full of students, neighbors, friends, family, men in uniform and the press and watched over by local law enforcement.
Congresswoman Jaime Herrera Beutler was there to present the Silver Star.
“You know, as a member of Congress I get to be involved in a number of different types of events,” she told the crowd. “None however give me the level of pride and honor that I feel today for presenting an award to someone for an act of heroism during their military service.
"At times some are placed in extraordinary positions that require great acts of heroism and sacrifice. It is important that these individuals be recognized and awarded for these acts. It’s important not only for them but to all of their comrades in arms both future and those today. “
During the Battle on Hill 355 near Un-Dong, Korea, a senior officer was wounded. PFC Wuorinen and another soldier pulled the colonel to safety and attended to his wounds skillfully while keeping the enemy at bay for eight long hours, killing eight Chinese soldiers.
Finally, reinforcements arrived and they were saved. The colonel survived, and while he and the other soldier were honored with the Silver Star and the Distinguished Service Cross, Wuorinen was overlooked.
The colonel had received such great medical care on Wuorinen’s watch that he believed Wuorinen to be a medic, and medics are not eligible for awards for acts of bravery.
Wuorinen received the Silver Star, the National Defense Service Medal and the Korean War Service Medal. The Republic of Korea also honored him with an Ambassador of Peace Medal.
Wuorinen thanked the crowd, “Well as most of you know I’m not much of a talker. I’ll get through this as fast as I can. Other than my time as a soldier during the Korean War I have been a logger. I don’t know how to make great speeches but I know how to say thank you and mean it.
"It did bother me over the years that I risked my life for a fellow soldier for my country but never received any recognition. Today has changed all of that. I am proud to be a Manchu and keep up the fire. To all of you in the audience: veterans, non veterans, neighbors, news media, students and faculty here at the Naselle-Grays River school, I thank you for caring enough to be here.
"Lastly, I want to say thank you to all of those individuals who were involved in the effort to get this award for me. It means more to me than you can know. I say thank you again and never give up because it will come to you someday."