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Bremerton man receives purple heart after 52 years

Bremerton resident William O’Hara will be presented with the Purple Heart medal today in Olympia at the state’s annual recognition of Korean War veterans.

O’Hara was born in Bremerton on Nov. 18, 1928. At the age of 16, he worked for the Army Transport Service aboard ships transporting troops and supplies during WWII — he was not old enough to fight.

“My mother would not sign for me to go into the war, but she would for the Army transport,” O’Hara said.

In January 1946, he enlisted in the Army and went through basic training at Fort Lewis. He was then sent to Europe where he stayed three years in the 1st Engineer Combat Battalion, 1st Infantry Division.

“It was the best three years I ever spent in the Army,” O’Hara said. “It was the best unit, people seemed proud to be in the unit.”

He entered the Korean War in July of 1950, where he built bridges and worked on roads in an engineering unit. Five months later, sometime before Christmas, O’Hara was near P’Yong Yang defending a road to keep it open for U.S. troops. The Chinese were in the area and one of their artillery shells exploded near O’Hara’s position and sent shrapnel into his hip.

“We were bugging out actually you know... the Chinese were moving fast,” O’Hara said.

O’Hara was sent to an aid station, but was overlooked because his injuries were not as serious as some others. However, when it was soon discovered that he had frostbite on his feet, something he was unaware of until it was diagnosed at the aid station, He was sent to an Army hospital in Osaka, Japan for treatment.

It was normal for injured soldiers to get 90 days of easy duty after being released from the hospital, but O’Hara was back with his unit by Feb. 5.

“McArthur said everyone that can walk is going back,” O’Hara said.

The end of O’Hara’s tour in Korea ended in July of 1951 and he felt that his time there wasn’t wasted.

“We were doing a just cause, like they said, the communists had to be stopped somewhere, and I believe there was a purpose for that,” He said.

O’Hara continued to work in engineering units in the Army in Europe and the U.S. and retired as a Sergeant 1st Class when returned Korea in 1965. He then worked as a civilian maintaining military bases in Vietnam and Korea until he returned to Bremerton to work as a maintenance inspector at Bangor in 1976.

“This is where I wanted to come, this is my home,” O’Hara said about his decision to return to the place he was born.

He remained for 12 years before he went to a NASA base in Virginia to work as a transportation supervisor, but returned to Bremerton after three years to retire for good.

O’Hara enjoys playing golf at the Rolling Hills Golf Course near his home, where his son is now the head golf pro. However, a recent illness has kept him off the course.

The Purple Heart is awarded to soldiers injured in war, and O’Hara knew he had received the award, but it had never been presented to him. If it were not for some good friends it may have never happened.

About three years ago, O’Hara met Bob Sauter, a local veterans advocate and president of the Kitsap County Veterans Coalition.

“The best thing that ever happened to me was when I met Bob, he really helped me,” O’Hara said.

With the help of Sauter, O’Hara was able to receive veterans benefits as well as the recognition he deserves.

It wasn’t until a few days ago that O’Hara even knew he was going to be presented with the award.

“I am actually a low-key guy, I wasn’t really pleased about it at first,” said O’Hara, but nonetheless is excited about the opportunity. “It means a great deal to me, I am proud of receiving that medal,” He said.

O’Hara has three children, a son and daughter who live in Bremerton and a daughter who lives in Phoenix. He lives with his wife, Sin Cha, of 33 years whom he met in Korea after he retired from the Army.

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