You will be redirected to the page you want to view in  seconds.

Korean War POW finally gets medal at 80

Feb. 23, 2013 - 12:37PM   |   Last Updated: Feb. 23, 2013 - 12:37PM  |  
  • Filed Under

Gordon L. Petro, a retired Army command sergeant major, thinks the two years he spent in captivity during the Korean War were a "cakewalk."

"I spent a couple of years in a POW camp in Korea," he said. "But it was probably a cakewalk compared to what those poor guys went through in Vietnam."

Republican. Congressman Bill Posey presented the humble veteran, who served 27 years in the Army, with">a Prisoner of War medal on Friday. Petro, who is now 80, retired as a command sergeant major and then pursued a career teaching Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps, or JROTC, in California. He retired, again, to Brevard County.

"I don't think we can ever honor our POWs enough, or all the soldiers that take that risk when they sign up," Posey said before pinning the medal on Petro's orange Hawaiian shirt.

Petro, who is from upstate New York, walked out of high school when the Korean War started. He did not earn his degree, but later received two during his Army service.

In 1951, he was given a six-month tour of duty as a "non-jumping Ranger" on a ground support crew in North Korea. It was during that tour, when he was 18 or 19 years old, that he was captured.

"Our job was to go in front of the line, see what we could do to stop the enemy from infiltrating," he said. "We were out to stop them, but more or less, they got to us.

"I was going to be rotated the next day. I was the platoon sergeant. I figured, ‘What's one more day, one more mission?' "

Petro was preparing for the mission when he was captured. He was held captive for two years, from Sept. 3, 1951, to Sept. 3, 1953.

"There were times there were pure tragedies," he said, remembering other soldiers who were so cold, so stricken with frostbite they lost their toes. When he was first captured, Petro said he was alone and put into a dark, closed hole. He did not eat. When he was let out of the darkness, a guard waved three fingers at him.

"I took it to mean I was there three days," he said.

"Youth was on my side. I could survive better."

He and others at "Camp Four" were freed in 1953 and moved to United Nations military control.

"What a feeling it was," said Petro, who added that overwhelming sensation had not happened to him again until Friday.

As he accepted the POW medal, Petro cried.

His service may have gone unnoticed had it not been for the staff of Candlewood Suites in Melbourne. Petro stayed there last year after his wife of 54 years died, and staffers slowly got to know the man they now consider a grandfather.

In casual conversation, night auditor Sue Pagel learned about Petro's service and time as a POW. So she and other staff, including general manager Nick Ramchandani, had a flag-raising in Petro's honor.

"I just couldn't believe it. Sixty years and he's never been recognized for it," she said. "He's never complained. He went on and served many years after that. He's a wonderful young man."

But the flag-raising wasn't enough for Pagel, a mother of two servicemembers, who contacted Rob Medina in Posey's office.

"It all started over a cup of coffee," she said.

Petro spent 21 years of his military career in recruiting , enjoying the benefits of being in the military, but serving in the civilian community. About his career, he says, "They treated me well."

He said he was surprised to receive the medal, which he did not even know existed until he talked to Pagel. Proudly wearing the medal, Petro asked for one thing.

"The soldiers of today, men and women ... when you see them, thank them for their service," he said. "It may sound corny, but it's not to me."

Answers by RallyPoint

Join trending discussions in the military's #1 professional community. See what members like yourself have to say from across the DoD.

More In News

Start your day with a roundup of top defense news.

VA Home Loan

Search By:

Product Options:
Zip Code:

News for your in-box

Sign up now for free Military Times E-Reports. Choose from Money and Education. Subscribers: log in for premium e-newsletters.

This Week's Navy Times

This Week's Navy Times

Go mustang
LDO and warrant careers offer more authority, a pay hike and big retirement payout

Subscribe for Print or Digital delivery today!

MilitaryTimes Green Trusted Classifieds Looking to buy, sell and connect on Military Times?
Browse expanded listings across hundreds of military installations.
Faces of valorHonoring those who fought and died in Operations Iraqi Freedom and Enduring Freedom.
hall of valorThe Hall of Valor is a searchable database of valor award citations collected by Doug Sterner, a Vietnam veteran and Military Times contributing editor, and by Military Times staff.

All you need to know about your military benefits.

Benefits handbook

Guard & Reserve All you need to know about the Guard & Reserve.

guard and reserve handbook