STERLING – A brutal 17-day battle fought in harsh, freezing, unfamiliar ground could not have been farther from the warm, heartfelt celebration surrounding Marv Younger on Friday.
The Marine Corps sergeant who grew up picking cotton in Stuttgart, Arkansas, entered the service in 1948 as a 17-year-old “with nothing else to do.”
He returned 4 years later to his new home in Rock Falls, accumulating several honors and the brushes with death that went with them.
Medals he was awarded were either unavailable or discontinued, but he already carried his prize; he left the Korean War with his life, something that couldn’t be said for thousands of others.
“Them guys who didn’t come back, they’re the real heroes,” he said, dressed in full uniform about to make his rounds among dozens of friends and family members waiting for him at K’s Korners, the bar he owned for 3 decades before selling it to his son, Andy.
He carried dice with him, showing his guests two fives that snapped into snake eyes within a brief moment. They smiled at the magic trick; it was only fair to give them their own little dose of surprise considering what had been awaiting him.
Those missing honors – four bronze stars and eight medals – finally found their way to him after more than half a century.
His children often heard him wonder why he never received them, and Marion Younger, his daughter-in-law, made a point to track them down.
The first batch came in the mail a couple weeks ago, and she thought about simply saying “look what came in the mail for you, Marv” and surprise him, but that didn’t feel like it was enough.
“I thought no, it’s not right; he’s waited so long and done so much, and with all that he went through, we have to do something to honor that,” she said.
The 87-year-old fought in the Inchon Landing, North Korean Aggression, Communist China Aggression campaigns and the Battle of Chosin Reservoir, a grueling 17-day campaign in freezing temperatures.
Because of the heavy casualties, the survivors were pegged as the “Chosin Few.”
“It was terrible up there,” he said. “Hundreds of guys just froze to death.”
His five children, Connie Mathes, and Lori, Andy, Cole and Brandy Younger, were all present and pinned on his medals in a formal ceremony.
“We’re very proud of him; he’s always worked hard and taken care of his family,” said Mathes, who traveled from Charlotte, North Carolina for the celebration.
There’s another honor he will receive in the mail: an American flag flown at the U.S. Capitol in his honor.
Letters of commendation were also read from legislators including U.S. Sens. Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin as well as U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos.