Clifford Pederson of Mitchell served with the Army on the frontline in the Korean War. Asked if he’s been here to the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the National Mall before, Pederson’s voice softens.
“Several years ago,” Pederson said.
He visited the memorial again on Midwest Honor Flight’s Mission 4, which took 82 veterans from the Great Plains to Washington, D.C. on May 7.
“Some of my friends I left face down in Korea,” Pederson said. “I cry a lot. I’m about ready to cry now.”
He says he’s happy he came, calling it “closure.”
“Maybe now I can pretty much put all those bad experiences in background and get on with my life,” Pederson said.
He’s 90 years old. He received a Purple Heart for saving a medic’s life in Korea.
“I looked up the hill, and the platoon medic had been hit with a concussion grenade, and he’s sliding towards me,” Pederson said. “And if I leave he’s dead. I’m on the edge of a cliff, I already have shrapnel in my back from the first hand grenade. So I stop, got the medic on his feet.”
Pederson survived a grenade blast then, too.
“One grenade went off between my legs, I lost part of my body,” Pederson said. “I spent five months in the hospital.”
Also on the Midwest Honor Flight trip is Rodney Gist of Sioux Falls, who served with the Army in World War II.
“I missed being shipped to Europe a little bit after the Battle of the Bulge,” Gist said. “But they sent me the other direction to, but I crossed the international date line about the time the war was ending, so they put me with combat engineers.”
Visiting the memorials brings back a rush of memories.
“I had a lot of interesting post-war experiences among the Japanese prisoners of war,” Gist said. “And through that, just the relationship, I learned their name, they learned mine.”
He says they had a shared belief.
“If we had known each other like that before, we could never have pulled the trigger with the guy on the other side,” Gist said. “And when I left, those prisoners of war all brought me something made with their own hands, and as a gift, saying thank you.”
Decades later, in a world dramatically different, he says he’s feeling another thank you on this trip to Washington.
“The longer I’m on it, the more I feel somebody’s really trying to say thanks for the things we’ve done,” Gist said.
This trip in 2019, decades after the events of World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War, is a reminder that a veteran’s service doesn’t end when deployment finishes. It lasts for the rest of his or her life, and well beyond that.
“The VA’s doing a very good job for me, getting me compensated for my post-trauma,” Pederson said.
Despite everything he’s experienced, he would serve again.
“I was drafted from Flandreau, South Dakota, and if I was asked, I would do it again,” Pederson said.
Coming up in tonight’s Eye on KELOLAND, you’ll meet the Steever brothers who grew up in Bryant, South Dakota: four brothers, all veterans, two guardians for the other two on this Midwest Honor Flight trip.