G. Sam Piatt
GREENUP, Ky. — Monday is National Medal of Honor Day and Greenup County’s Ernie West, who received the medal for his actions against the enemy 61 years ago in the hill country of North Korea, is among those to be honored.
West, 81, of Wurtland, is expected to be on hand at a 10 a.m. public ceremony at the Wurtland Volunteer Fire Department, where an oil painting depicting his actions will be unveiled.
The painting, by Brian Mosier, art instructor at Greenup County High School, shows West, an Army private, carrying his wounded lieutenant through the battlefield to safety.
The commemorative painting to honor West was the idea of Clarence “Soc” Clay of South Shore. He met earlier this year with Mosier and West, who has been reluctant to talk about his heroics.
But he described the scene and Mosier said he believed he could capture it in the painting.
“It’s an impressive war painting,” Clay said Thursday at a meeting to iron out details of the ceremony with others involved in it.
They included Master Gunnery Sgt. Paul Sites, Marine ROTC instructor at the high school; Emily Stephenson, coordinator, Greeup County Resource Center; Tom Crump, principal of Argillite Elementary School; and Tom Clay, TV and radio show outdoor host, who will act as master of ceremonies.
“I thought we needed something permanent to honor Ernie,” said Clay, who is a freelance outdoor writer and photographer.
There will be 11 prints of the painting. These are to be autographed by West and offered for sale for $500 each. The proceeds will go to fund a college scholarship for deserving Greenup County students.
Clay said his hopes are to commission another painting to honor John Collier, Greenup County’s other Medal of Honor recipient.
Collier, of Worthington, was presented the medal posthumously for his heroics, which also came in the Korean War.
West an orphan
Ernest E. West was born in nearby Russell but wound up being raised in the orphanage at the Methodist Children’s Home in Versailles, Ky. He came to Wurtland when he was 17 years old and landed a job in the railroad yards and repair shops run by the C&O Railroad, now CSX Corp.
Then the Army called him and a lot of other young men to go and help stop communist North Korea from taking over South Korea. It was on the night of Oct. 12, 1952, when West, fighting with Company L in the 14th Infantry Regiment with the 25th Infantry Division, went out as a member of an eight-man patrol to destroy an enemy outpost.
They were ambushed and suffered heavy casualties. The enemy was rolling hand grenades down a hill on them. The soldier in charge of the platoon suffered mangled legs from an explosion and went down. The 21-year-old West took charge. He had those who could still walk fall back and set up a line of defense. He carried the wounded man to safety, killing three enemy soldiers with rifle fire on the way.
He returned to the others through withering fire, losing an eye to a fragment from an exploding grenade. He assisted two other wounded comrades to safety, killing three more enemy soldiers with his rifle as they went.
“When we started out on that patrol, we made an agreement that we would not leave anybody — that we would get them out whatever it took,” West said in an interview at the Greenup County War Memorial off U.S. 23 between Wurtland and Greenup in 2011.
Collier saved his own
Collier, who would have been 82 next month, received the medal for his heroics with the Army during a battle taking place on Sept. 19, 1950.
He and his Company C came under intense fire from a machine gun nest above them. Collier and three other volunteers pushed forward in an attempt to wipe it out, but were twice repelled. On the third attempt, Collier moved out ahead by himself, into the face of enemy fire. He took the machine gun nest out, killing at least four enemy soldiers in the process.
As he came back down the hill and rejoined the squadron, a grenade landed in their midst. Shouting a warning, Collier threw himself on the grenade, smothering the explosion with his body and saving the others from death.
G. SAM PIATT can be reached at 606-932-3619 or Gsamwriter@aol.com.