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Purple Heart awarded to veteran after 55 years

By Bob Hieronymus | Wingspread staff writer | Dec. 14, 2006

RANDOLPH AIR FORCE BASE, Texas — A ceremony was held in the Taj Mahal for Daniel Trautman Nov. 21 to present him with a Purple Heart for his service during the Korean War.

Mr. Trautman was wounded, 55 years ago, when enemy forces attacked his combat team's position in South Korea.

On June 25, 1950, North Korea invaded South Korea in an attack that caught the world by surprise.

Nine days later, Private Daniel Trautman found himself sitting in a foxhole just north of Pusan as part of Fox Company, 9th Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, the first unit to arrive in Korea from the states.

It was a sudden transition from quiet civilian life to combat in a very hot war, he said. He had enlisted just a few months before and completed his basic training as a rifleman.

"My mother had just passed away and I couldn't find a job," Mr. Trautman said. "I figured I might as well enlist instead of waiting for the draft to catch me. I was still 17, which made me one of the youngest in my outfit."

The war was not going well for the allies. The North Koreans pushed them down to the southeastern corner of South Korea in just a few weeks. Gen. Douglas MacArthur, commander of the U. S. forces in the Far East, developed a plan for near simultaneous landings at Pusan and near Inchon on the west coast. Mr. Trautman was assigned to a
regimental combat team and found himself being sent anywhere the team was needed.
In early 1951, the combat team was holding a position on the banks of the Nakdong River in eastern South Korea.

"I remember the night very well," Mr. Trautman said. "It was about 3:30 in the morning when the North Koreans rushed our position. They came with bugles echoing through the valley. I was crouched down in a kind of sitting position in a little foxhole and my buddy was lying on the ground at the edge of the hole."

Mr. Trautman knew the enemy was getting close, but didn't want to shoot his rifle in the dark at targets he couldn't see because the muzzle flash would give away his position.

"I threw a hand grenade in the direction of the sounds," he said. "Just then a grenade landed in the foxhole, right between my legs. I threw it back out, but it exploded in the air."

The shrapnel caught Mr. Trautman's friend in the legs and Mr. Trautman took a number of hits in his arms, neck and face, he said. "My buddy couldn't walk and my arms wouldn't work, so he grabbed me around the neck and I half-carried, half-dragged him back to the aid station where we both got bandaged up. My sergeant later said that my grenade had killed three of the enemy."

Mr. Trautman was sent back to Japan for treatment and recovery, but after two months he volunteered to return to Korea.

"Because of my wounds, I didn't have to go to the front lines," he said. "I worked delivering supplies and ammunition to the troops."

By August 1951 Mr. Trautman had credit for 13 months in theater. He returned to the states and received his honorable discharge but he was never awarded the Purple Heart although his medical records show it was authorized.

His wounds left him blind in his left eye and with back muscles that never fully recovered. He said he can feel the affects of his wounds more now, at the age of 76, than he did at the time of his release from active duty.

Mr. Trautman found a job with the Air Force Reserve as a staff sergeant in the supply system, but his weakened back muscles gave out while he was lifting a heavy box.

His stay in the hospital was not counted as duty so his release papers from the Reserves credit him with only 22 days of service.

He came to Randolph in 1972 for a civil service job in supply. Ten years later, however, he received a medical retirement because of his disability.

Today, Mr. Trautman lives in Cibolo with his wife of almost 50 years, Carmella. She immigrated to this country from Italy, with her family, as a young girl.

"I couldn't ask for a better wife," Mr. Trautman said.

"Together we raised four boys, all of whom have done well. I'm proud of them all."

A neighbor, who is a West Point graduate on active duty at Fort Sam Houston, suggested that he start the process of requesting a formal presentation of his Purple Heart medal. The officer even wrote to his congressman to get some action.

Representative Henry Cuellar presented the medal in the rotunda of the Taj Mahal on
Nov. 21.

When anyone drops by to visit, Mr. Trautman will proudly show his collection of military items and the shadow box with his medals. At the top of the display are his Purple Heart and the Combat Infantryman badge.

"Even 55 years late, it's still an honor to receive this recognition for my service," he said.