Chuck Hughes went into combat during the early, desperate days of the Korean War and paid dearly for it.
He was hit in the leg during the summer of 1950, just before his Army outfit was all but annihilated, only to be wounded again even more seriously in 1951.
"The second time, I reached into my pocket to get a cigarette, and when I pulled my hand out it was all bloody," said Hughes, 79. "When I got to Walter Reed Hospital, they wanted to take my right arm off. But I wouldn't let them."
Representatives of the South Korean government recently presented medals to Hughes, who lives in Versailles, and about 30 other Central Kentucky veterans of the war, expressing appreciation for their service and sacrifice during the conflict which ended in 1953.
John Suh of Louisville, a Korea native and regional director with the Korean National Advisory Council on Reunification, presented the veterans with Ambassadors of Peace medals during a luncheon at the Hannanoki Restaurant in Lexington.
All of the recipients are members of Chapter 219 of the Korean War Veterans Association.
The South Korean government seeks to honor as many veterans as possible now because opportunities to do so are becoming scarce, Suh said. The average age for Korean War veterans is now about 82.
Harry Walsh, 84, a Korea veteran from Lexington, said the men were grateful for the recognition.
"It means a lot," Walsh said. "They are very nice people to do all this, and they just can't seem to do enough for us. We really appreciate it."
This is the third medal Walsh has received from South Korea. He was given one in 2000 for the 50th anniversary of the outbreak of the war, and another marking the 60th anniversary in 2010.
When the conflict began in June 1950, Hughes was serving what was supposed to have been a six-month tour on Okinawa. Instead, the Army sent him straight into the fighting. American and South Korean forces staggered backward in the face of massive North Korean attacks during the early months of the war.
How bad was it? Only 43 soldiers survived from Hughes' first outfit, the 29th Regimental Combat Team.
Hughes, who couldn't walk because of his leg wound, said a sergeant carried him "forever" as they scrambled southward trying to reach safety. His second wound the following year sent Hughes home for good. He kept his injured right arm, but he has limited use of it to this day.
"I don't think any of us, even ones who were wounded, feels badly about having been over there," Hughes said. "We were doing what we were told, and what we believed in."
Earl Buckler, 83, of Lexington received an Ambassador for Peace medal for his service as a gunner's mate on the destroyer USS Moale during the war. Shelling enemy coastal positions was the ship's job.
"Nothing really exciting happened to us," Buckler said. "It was just another job. But we went around the world on our ship, through the Suez Canal and back through the Panama."
Buckler said he's thankful for the medal he received.
"It's nice for us to get the medals, and the Korean people were good to us," he said. "But we were good to them, too."
Jim Warren: (859) 231-3255.