Purple heart

Highland resident John E. Chavez received a purple heart, for his service in the Korean War, established by George Washington, in 1782.

Some time ago, this reporter had the honor to speak with WWII and Korean War veteran John E. Chavez, from East Highland. Chavez shared his experiences in the battlefield of South and North Korea, during the Korean War, as a member of the Airborne 187 Regimental Combat Team.

The decorated paratrooper supported American troops and engaged in hand-to-hand combat, while in Korea.

In honor of his service, Chavez has received numerous certificates and medals in recognition of his valor and dedication to his platoon and country.

Chavez has a gold-plated belt buckle from 187th Rakkasan Airborne Regiment. It reads, “The Rakkasans ‘Ne Desit Virtus.’”

Rakkasan means umbrellas in Japanese, according to Chavez.

It was emblematic of the paratrooper regiments that fought in the Korean theater.

He also has scarves that represent his first and second jumps in Korea.

Along with his scarves, buckles and other awards, Chavez has the distinction of receiving three purple hearts from his time in combat.

“This one [purple heart] is because I have shrapnel in the back of the neck,” said Chavez.

Chavez recalls getting that piece of shrapnel on Nov. 25, 1950.

“I got ambushed by North Korean guerillas,” said Chavez. “We were in the truck, getting out, and I got hit.

“We had to take the hill, and there were about 18 or 19 guerilla forces. They were all firing at the truck.”

Chavez and his squad snuck around the other side of the truck to avoid being hit by gunfire.

“They had a machine gun across the valley that was firing at us, so we had to climb this way to get around them, and we killed all 18 of them and knocked that machine gun out.”

Chavez’ vivid recollection of events that took place more than 60 years ago is a testament of his ability to stay focused on his operation and his, probably, subconscious will to survive and return to the states.

“In that area we got hit,” said Chavez. “In one of the big battles, there were only about 31 of us. We got hit by 300 to 400 guerilla forces.”

Chavez said that his team was successful against the guerilla forces.

“They got the machine-gunner, Maldonado,” said Chavez. “He was a small guy. He wasn’t even 18 years old. They [North Koreans] overran his position.”

“The next morning, with another friend of mine, Mesa, we pulled him out of the fox hole, where he had the machine gun.

“We couldn’t find any wounds in the front. They got hit right here (pointing to his arm pit), where he laid down (in the position of firing his weapon).”

Chavez believes that the bullet entered the body under his arm and went through Maldonado’s heart.

After the war had passed, Maldonado received a Distinguished Service Star and a parade, in his honor, at Ft. Ord, according to Chavez.

Next week, we will learn more about the over one dozen awards and citations that Sergeant John E. Chavez received fighting for the Army Airborne, in Asia.

Do you anyone war heroes that live in Highland, I would enjoy meeting them and honoring their service to the United States of America.

You can contact me at (909) 816-0318.

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