SALEM, Ore. — It has been called the "forgotten war," but after being overlooked for more than six decades, one Keizer man's service in the Korean War has been remembered and recognized at a ceremony in the Oregon's Capitol.
"It's been too much for me," Bob Robison, 82, told a room full of state officials, family and friends Friday after Oregon Department of Veterans' Affairs Director Cameron Smith presented him with a Purple Heart and certificate.
Robison was an Army paratrooper in Korea on Easter Sunday in March 1951 when enemy troops shot him in the chest. It was an injury he downplayed as a "flesh wound" at the time in a letter to his mother, telling her he was "nicked under the right arm." But, he said, Army doctors had to cut him open to make sure his lungs weren't damaged.
After recuperating, he went back on combat duty and was wounded again a few months later. That time, he "just got shot in the left leg," he said, but it was enough for the Army to send him home. What the Army didn't send was a Purple Heart, the oldest U.S. military decoration still in use today, which is given to service members who are wounded or killed in action.
Like many Korean War veterans, Robison also never received the Republic of Korea's Korean War Service Medal, which U.S. military regulations did not permit service members to receive until after 1954.
When his service ended in 1957, Robison and his wife, Barb, moved the family to California and then, in 1969, to Oregon, where he worked as an iron worker until his retirement in 1996.
Robison said he didn't know he was owed the medals until he got a letter from the Veterans Administration telling him he would be charged for VA medical treatment because, though his record showed he had been wounded twice in combat, he had never been awarded a Purple Heart.
He and family members, including a niece in Michigan, then began working to get the decorations added to his record. With help from the Oregon Department of Veterans’ Affairs, he got the paperwork to prove he earned the awards, but it wasn’t until Friday’s ceremony that he got the recognition.
“Honor and recognition is huge,” said Cameron Smith, a Marine Corps veteran and director of the state veterans agency.
There to honor Robison were Sen. Alan Olsen, R-Canby; Reps. Kim Thatcher, R-Keizer, and Betty Komp, D-Woodburn; Keizer City Council President Joe Egli; and representatives of the Oregon National Guard.
Smith said the chaos of combat sometimes meant that veterans did not always receive the honors they earned in earlier wartime eras, but the department has staff that can help fix the oversight.
State lawmakers also honored Robison on the House floor Friday morning where he received a standing ovation.