Thursday, July 07, 2011

Sgt. Einer Ingman at age 82.

A True Hometown Hero

Other commitments kept me from attending the Fourth of July weekend activities in my hometown--Tomahawk, Wisconsin. That was unfortunate for several reasons.

The parade is a good one. There’s plenty of music, lots of participants, and having a Harley Davidson plant in town ensures there will be enough high-volume roaring to suit those who appreciate Fourth of July noise. Many high school classes hold reunions during the weekend, so it is a good time to renew old acquaintances.

But most important, I missed a chance to see a real American hero for the third time, and there probably won’t be many more chances. Most people have never seen a Medal of Honor or met anyone who has earned one. Sgt. Einer Ingman, who now lives in Irma near Tomahawk, received one for extreme valor during the Korean War.

Ingman is one of only 85 men alive today who have earned a Medal of Honor. About half the awards were made during the Civil War, when the medal was established. Since the start of World War II, only 859 soldiers, sailors, and airmen have earned the medal, and half forfeited their lives doing so. Ingman is one of just three Medal of Honor recipients now living in Wisconsin.

The Medal of Honor is nothing like those ribbons you see covering the chests of generals and admirals. That gaudy stuff mainly consists of unit citations awarded just for being somewhere, not doing anything. Earning a Medal of Honor requires heroic action.

I never was personally acquainted with Einer Ingman, but because of him I can claim membership in the small group of people who have seen both the medal and a recipient. In 1951, Ingman was flown from a military hospital to receive his award from President Harry Truman. Shortly thereafter, he took leave from a military hospital to be reunited with his family in Tomahawk.

The visit was somewhat of a surprise to civic leaders, but they moved quickly to set up a parade and a program to recognize Ingman. I marched in the high school band during the parade. Immediately after that, the program was held in Pride Athletic Park. I was among the spectators.

Tomahawk people did themselves proud. They gave Sgt. Ingman a new Buick sedan and what is almost as essential in northern Wisconsin—a new boat. I was close enough to the hero to see the award he wore around his neck.

A few days later, I got much closer to Ingman. We were in a small group waiting for the doors to open at the Lyric Theater for an evening movie. Ingman had difficulty walking with a cane and support from his girlfriend, who he married a year later. Frankly, it was hard to look at his disfigured face. It was said he had a dozen operations up to that time. He ended up having 30, before surgeons could do no more for him.

I said “Hi,” and he said “Hi.” I think it was just a ritual hometown greeting. He joined the Army while living in southern Wisconsin, and thus probably made north wood’s visits only occasionally on leave. Two years earlier, I worked with his brother, Bobby Ingman, for two months at the Highland Egg Farm near Tomahawk, and that was my only direct contact with the Ingman family, I think the war hero was just saying hello to everybody he encountered, which is customary in small Midwestern towns.

In the 59 years since, I’ve never crossed paths with Sgt. Ingman. He and wife Mardelle, who had seven children, attended numerous patriotic events over those years, including 11 presidential inaugurations. I had to make a living during that time, and didn’t travel in the same circles.

Medal of Honor recipients are so rare because of the extreme courage they must exhibit to merit the award. Here is a summary of what Sgt. Ingman (then a corporal) did to earn his medal, and what happened to him as a result:

Ingman was in one of two lead squads of an assault platoon in Korea. While attacking a fortified ridge held by the enemy, the platoon was pinned down and both squad leaders and several men were wounded. Ingman assumed command, combined what was left of the two squads, and formulated an attack plan.

Than Ingman single-handedly attacked a machine gun crew that was firing on his group, tossed a grenade into the emplacement, and killed the soldiers with his rifle. He approached a second machine gun, and was knocked to the ground and lost part of one ear when a grenade exploded near his head. As he got to his feet, he was shot in the face by a Chinese soldier. The bullet entered his upper lip and exited behind his ear.

Ingman continued his attack on the machine gun emplacement, firing his rifle and killing the remaining crew with his bayonet. He then fell unconscious as his men captured the objective and forced the enemy troops to flee.

Ingman was sent to Tokyo for medical treatment; he regained consciousness seven days after the battle. He lost his left eye and the hearing in his left ear, and had severe amnesia. Memories gradually returned after emergency brain surgery, but he has experienced memory problems throughout his life since and has difficulty speaking clearly. He was transferred to Percy Jones Army Hospital in Battle Creek, MI, for additional treatment, which spanned two years and included 23 surgeries.

What heroic action and what a horrible price to pay. I relate the details only to emphasize the huge sacrifices made by men who earned the Medal of Honor.  Ingman still carries the scars of battle, and now is wheelchair-bound.  The photo here was published recently by the Tomahawk Leader.

My hometown people saluted Sgt. Einer Ingman once again with a special ceremony on July 5, sixty years to the day after he earned his Medal of Honor. I wish I could have been there, if only just to say “Hi” to a hero.


Kay Dennison said...

Wow!!!! He is indeed a true hero as well as a true patriot!!

schmidleysscribblins, said...

My David would approve of honoring this hero. He always says people forget the Korean War. Nice tribute to a real hero. Thanks, Dianne

Dick Klade said...

Bill Hamilton commented via e-mail:

Your blog about Sgt. Ingman was a treat for me and an honor for one of our honored. The Fourth of July is my favorite patriotic holiday, the Korean War was my war, and President Truman was then and still is my favorite President.

Big John said...

Just out of interest, there is a Medal of Honour in a glass case in Westminster Abbey in London. It was awarded to our 'Unknown Soldier' who's grave is close by.