Ed Mech, 85, saw death face to face as a U.S. Army ambulance driver in the Korean War.
"I used to carry the wounded from the front lines to the rear echelon aid stations, and we dropped them off there," Mech, of DeMotte, said this month.
Mech recalled how U.S. patrols often got shelled at daybreak as they were returning from their nightly hunt for the enemy.
"One guy they brought in, his leg was just dangling, his arm wasn't that on," Mech said. "They put him in the aid station, and the doctor was taking care of him in the aid station, and I happened to look over there. I told the doc, I says, 'He's checking for that wound.' But I said, 'He's checking for that wound, but he's bleeding.' He was lying on that litter, and he bled to death on that stretcher. That guy, he didn't happen to make it."
Being a medic was a scary job, but Mech took it so he wouldn't have to be at the front line the whole time.
"I went back to the forward aid station," he recalled, "and I got an ambulance driver, and they offered me a rider with me, and I said, 'Well, is he going to carry a gun for me?'
"'He don't carry a weapon.'
"And I said, 'Why not?'
"'He's a conscientious objector.'
"I said, 'I don't want him.'
"So they got rid of him and gave me another guy that rode in the ambulance with me who carried a weapon for my protection, because we drove over the bones all the time. It was just blackout lights. You didn't have headlights or anything."
A red cross on the ambulance might as well have been the concentric circles of a bull's-eye for the enemy.
"You took the cross off the ambulance, because that was ... they didn't go by the Geneva Convention over there," Mech said.
"I used to pack a .45 and go up and down the trenches."
"We got shot upon quite a bit of times from down below," Mech said.
"We never took our clothes off. We laid with our clothes on when we went to bed," he said.
In the morning, an officer would come along and make sure all the men shaved.
Mech earned a combat medic medal for his service on the front line. That's not the only medal he earned, though.
"I was supposed to get one Bronze Star, which I never did get," Mech said.
He earned that medal by dashing into enemy territory to attack an enemy position.
"I went over the line," Mech said. "I took that grenade and threw it in that pill box." Then he ran back to relative safety.
"I didn't get shot upon or nothing."
Not that time, anyway.
Mech had a choice of staying in the service to wait for that medal or to go home. He chose to go home.
"He said, 'Well, you can always get it later,' but I never did get it," Mech said.
Carmen Foresta, of Dolton, said recently he, too, earned the Bronze Star in Korea and appealed to the Pentagon last fall to finally get it. He was turned down. Like many veterans of that era, his military records were destroyed in a warehouse fire in St. Louis.
Unlike Foresta, Mech still has his own copies of that paperwork. He might finally be recognized as a hero for his service in Korea.