Off Beat: Herrera Beutler delivers veteran's long-overdue medal

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photoU.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, issued a statement Tuesday reiterating that the Columbia River Crossing project must meet all of its funding and permitting requirements before it is eligible for federal dollars.

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A Southwest Washington soldier risked his life during the Korean War to save an Army officer from certain death.

Almost 60 years later, a local lawmaker was able to give that soldier the medal he deserved.

U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler recently presented a Silver Star to Bill Wuorinen. The 82-year-old veteran lives in Naselle, on the western edge of the state's 3rd Congressional District.

The Camas Republican has helped other veterans obtain replacement medals and commendations, but nothing as significant as the Silver Star, said spokesman Casey Bowman.

Longview Daily News reporter Barbara LaBoe offered some details. Wuorinen was among 150 soldiers defending a hilltop outpost against an eight-hour Chinese assault on March 17, 1953. Some attackers made it through the barbed wire and overran a platoon. After an American colonel was shot, Wuorinen and another soldier braved enemy gunfire and dragged the officer back to their trench.

They took turns defending their position and performing first aid to keep the colonel alive until the attackers were beaten back.

Wuorinen did so well at first aid that it initially cost him a medal. The colonel and the other soldier received Silver Stars. But the officer mistakenly believed that Wuorinen was a medic, just doing his job.

Folks in Naselle who supported his cause, including students and American Legion officials, notified Herrera Beutler's staff.

In an email, Herrera Beutler said: "It was an absolute honor to meet this brave man, and an even bigger honor to correct a mistake after more than half a century. We need more people like Mr. Wuorinen around, so it's vital that we recognize them for what they are: heroes."

Brian Baird presided over a similar ceremony in 2009 when he represented the 3rd District. The Vancouver Democrat presented a replacement Bronze Star to Eino Filla. The La Center veteran, who died in 2010, had earned that medal during some of the fiercest combat of World War II, on Okinawa.

Filla held it for only about a minute in 1945. Then an officer took it back; he had to give another soldier a Bronze Star, and they didn't have enough to go around.

— Tom Vogt

Off Beat lets members of The Columbian news team step back from our newspaper beats to write the story behind the story, fill in the story or just tell a story.