Joseph R. Medeiros, a Bristol native, keeps a cardboard-framed photo of a smiling 21-year-old soldier who battled in the Korean War more than 60 years ago. It’s one of the few mementos he kept from his days in the military.
He’s also framed his Silver Star medal, which he received for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity,” and his Purple Heart. He received that medal after he went to check on his men and was injured by a mortar blast.
But while Mr. Medeiros has shown his family the scar from the injury, he has shared little else about the stories behind the medals.
“I have two lives,” Mr. Medeiros said of his military and civilian experiences.
But that left his daughter, Catherine Sardinha, to wonder what happened in Korea all those years ago.
“He never spoke much about it,” said Ms. Sardinha, a Portsmouth resident.
She began to delve a little deeper into her dad’s Silver Star. She wanted to know more about her father’s “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity.” She wanted to know the extent on the injuries he suffered while serving his country. She also thought that the citations he never received would make a great Father’s Day present.
But phone calls to Washington D.C. and Virginia and hours of Internet research seemed to bear little results. So she turned to a family friend who works at the Veterans Administration, Steve Skuba.
“Steve was a great help,” she said.
Eventually, Ms. Sardinha received a phone call from the Veterans Administration in Quantico, Va. The caller wanted to confirm the recipient of 700 pages of medical history and two citations — one for the Silver Star, the other for the Purple Heart.
“I was taken aback,” Ms. Sardinha said of the unexpected phone call.
Soon she learned much more about her father’s service.
The military paperwork, and later, the stories shared by Mr. Medeiros, detailed how he received his Silver Star. It was during what should have been his final tour of duty in his three years in the Marines, that the 21-year-old soldier was deployed to a war zone. Mr. Medeiros and the rest of Company 1, 3rd Battalion, 1st Marine Division (reinforcement) landed in Seoul, South Korea. They moved onto Hagaruri where the weather was well below freezing and fighting frostbite was just as fierce as fighting the enemy.
The freezing temperatures made it difficult for the soldiers to use their weapons.
“We’d fire the .30 caliber machine guns every 15 minutes just to keep them warm,” Mr. Medeiros said.
During a battle, he recalled, an enemy’s bullet struck a sergeant.
“I cut his belt off and stuck my thumb in the hole,” he said.
It was so cold, he said, the wound froze closed, buying the injured soldier time to get help from the medics.
But according to military records, and by Mr. Mederios’ own accounts, it was during a frigid, nighttime battle at the Chosin Reservoir on Nov. 30, 1950 that ‘Corporal’ Medeiros’ courage, skill and devotion to the men around him changed the outcome for the allies.
“We were getting attacked,” he said.
Outnumbered, the Marines intended to stand their ground at the reservoir.
“We brought out all our equipment to throw at them. We were shooting, throwing hand grenades,” he said.
The commanding officer spotted two machine gun nests that were peppering the Marines with artillery fire.
“He shouted ‘See those guns. Get them out of there. Somebody do something’,” Mr. Mederios recalled.
Corporal Medeiros grabbed his bazooka and two eight-and-a-half pound rounds of ammunition and made his way 50 yards across a field and through the machine gun fire to a vantage point in range of the machine gun nest.
Unsure whether or not the frigid temperatures would affect the range — or whether the electrically charged firing system would work properly — he inserted one of the shells into the canister. He aimed at one of the nests and hoped for two things: that he would hear the 25-foot back blast of a properly working bazooka, and the shell wouldn’t fall short due to a frozen charge.
“I put my head down and pulled the trigger,” he said.
The first enemy machine gun nest went silent. The 21 year old corporal took up his bazooka and moved to another vantage point, this one 100 yards away, where he repeated his mission. The second ‘nest’ fell silent and he returned to his platoon before enemy soldiers could replace their fallen comrades and resume the assault.
Now, more than 60 years later, Mr. Medeiros recalled that he didn’t think much about his actions that night. He had the bazooka. That was his job.
“I thought I was pretty safe,” he said. “It was at night. They were shooting at the rest of the company. I left. When I got back the sergeant said ‘good job’. Then we advanced in the opposite direction.”
Mr. Medeiros, who now lives in Tiverton, recalled that none of the allied troops in that skirmish were lost taking control of the area around Chosin Reservoir, while 500 enemy troops were killed in the battle.
Mr. Medeiros’ Silver Star citation reads, in part: “Corporal Medeiros contributed materially to the success of his company in repulsing the enemy attack, and thereby upheld the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”
While browsing through the citations and medals spread on the table before him, the former Marine recalled the day in 1948 when he enlisted in the Corps. At the time, the 19-year-old worked as an oiler and was tired of his factory job.
“I went down to join the merchant marines, but the office was closed,” he recalled. “I was walking down the hallway to leave and a sergeant from the Marine Corps recruitment office asked what I was doing.”