BURNETTOWN - Maynard Whitehouse sees it as a $100 donation to honor his friend, who would be pleased to know schoolchildren are learning about what he did in the Korean War.
To Principal LaWana McKenzie, the gift means 10 books that will teach pupils about heroes such as her "Uncle Freddie," who also fought in that war.
The donation was recognized Saturday at a solemn ceremony at the Horse Creek-Midland Valley Veterans Park, where members of the military community paid homage to U.S. troops who are listed as prisoners of war and to those missing in action.
"Uncle Freddie" Gray, a prisoner of war for 32 months, was there. And his Wednesday night bowling buddy Mr. Whitehouse also was there. Each of them walked away with a plaque. Mr. Gray's was for his valor; Mr. Whitehouse's was for his gift to Jefferson Elementary School.
"It's important that children know what really happened," Mr. Whitehouse said.
Some never will because schools don't teach them much about the Korean War, several veterans said Saturday. But in Horse Creek Valley, Mr. Whitehouse and Mrs. McKenzie won't let the war - or Uncle Freddie - fade.
Mr. Gray really isn't Mrs. McKenzie's uncle. But she has known him like one since she was 15. And she had known him for a while before learning he was a POW. Mrs. McKenzie remembers that day to the tiny details, even after 33 years:
She and "Papa James" Gray, Mr. Gray's brother, were sitting on the side steps.
"When Uncle Freddie was pulling away in his pickup truck, Papa James turned to me and said, `Child, do you know who that man is?'
"And I said, `Yeah. That's Uncle Freddie.'
"He thought a few minutes and said proudly, `He's a POW. It's because of men like him that you and I have our freedom, and don't you ever forget it.'"
Mrs. McKenzie said she had never seen a POW until then.
"I got all choked up," she said. "Uncle Freddie had never said anything."
But she has heard the story about the time all of Mr. Gray's brothers went to California to meet his ship. They camped out overnight because they couldn't pay for a hotel room.
"They said he didn't talk about it much on the way home," Mrs. McKenzie said.
He still doesn't - not for long.
Mr. Gray served with the 2nd Infantry from 1948 to the end of the Korean War in 1953, the last 32 months as a captive of the Chinese in Camp 5 near the Yalu River.
"I didn't know from day to day if I would live or die," said Mr. Gray, of Warrenville. "You never knew what those crazy fools might do."
It's sometimes hard to believe he survived captivity, he said.
"Days like today mostly make me sad, though, because I think about all those men who didn't live and the many more who we will never know what happened to them," Mr. Gray said. "We can't forget any of them."
To make sure of it, he carries with him a picture of a friend's brother, young Cpl. Harold Adkison, who has been missing since May 19, 1951.
But Jack Adkison is not convinced his eldest brother is dead. He has been waiting for some word of him since 1989, when he and his wife, Glenda, attended a memorial service at Fort Benning, Ga., on Ranger Field. There he was told by battlefield comrades that his brother received a direct hit. But another soldier who was there said Harold didn't die - he'd talked to him the next day.
In case Harold Adkinson is alive, Mr. Gray keeps his picture and shows it at Korean War conventions.
After two world wars, the Korean War seemed pale in significance to many Americans - but not to those who fought in it or to families who waited for them to come home.
Nearly 36,000 U.S. troops died during the three-year war.
Reach Chasiti Kirkland at (803) 279-6895.
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