Memorial Day ceremony to include presentation to brother of Holy Cross native killed in Korean War
On Oct. 14, 1952, 22-year-old Army Sgt. Melvin Wester of Holy Cross was killed during the Battle of Triangle Hill in Korea, but his body was never recovered. Not even his dog tags were returned to his family.
Unlike other fallen soldiers who have had Legion posts named in their memory or memorials erected, Wester’s ultimate sacrifice has been obscure until now.
At its Memorial Day ceremony Monday, May 28, Belgium American Legion Post 412 will provide Wester the honor he deserves, said Chris Kissinger, post commander and a veteran of the war in Iraq.
More than 300 Ameircan soldiers were killed the same day as Wester in what became a month-long failed effort to rout the Chinese Army, Kissinger said.
Not only was Wester’s body not recovered for burial, but his family — father Melichar, who was known as Milly, brother Harvey and sister Mary Jane — did not receive the honors usually accorded families who lost loved ones in wars. Wester’s mother Mary had died 10 years earlier.
In 1986, 34 years later, Harvey, by then the lone survivor of his family, was presented with the American flag in a ceremony at Veterans Park in Fredonia. The Fredonia American Legion Post intervened on his behalf to obtain the honor.
At Monday’s Memorial Day ceremony in Belgium, Harvey, 83, of Fredonia, will be the guest of honor and presented with a Gold Star banner. The banners are given to families who had family members killed during wartime. He will also receive a 20-by-24-inch canvas photo of his brother in his dress uniform.
A similar canvas photo will be hung in the Belgium American Legion clubhouse alongside a Korean War-era jacket with the medals Wester earned — a combat infantry medal and the Purple Heart.
The honor is bittersweet, Harvey said.
His brother, who served with the 31st Infantry Regiment, 7th Division, was on a Navy ship headed home the day before he died.
“They were on the boat when everything changed, and they were pulled off and sent into battle,” Harvey said.
His brother, who led his squadron into battle, was a fun-loving, good-looking fellow who was dating a girl from Port Washington when he was drafted, Harvey said.
“Mr. Wester was asked to serve (drafted in 1951), and he served to the best of his ability,” Kissinger said. “We’re going to do a larger memorial to this young man. We as Americans need to keep alive the memories of those who gave the ultimate sacrifice and remember what Memorial Day means. It’s not just a day off.”
Memorial Day events will begin with an 8 a.m. Mass at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Lake Church. The names of veterans buried in local cemeteries will be read.
A parade at 10:30 a.m. will start at Lindale Street and proceed west on Main Street to Community Park.
The Cedar Grove-Belgium High School Band will march in the parade and perform at the park. The program will include a 21-gun salute and echo taps.
Food and refreshments will be served in the park.