The small community of Whitwell in Marion County, Tennessee, is appropriately proud that one of its citizens gave his life in the service of his country in the Korean conflict and was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor that was posthumously awarded to his family on March 19, 1954.
Ray Eugene Duke was born in Whitwell on May 9, 1923, and died while a prisoner of war on November 11, 1951. His heroic action took place near Mugok, Korea, on April 26, 1951.
Duke had served in the United States Army in World War II and was a Sergeant First Class during the Korean conflict.
Upon being informed that several men in his platoon had been isolated by the enemy and were in the process of being annihilated, Duke led a small force in a daring assault which re-captured the area from the enemy.
In a follow-up attack by a large force of North Koreans, Sgt.
Duke was wounded by mortar fire. Despite his injuries he confidently encouraged his men to hold their positions in spite of being subjected to extreme firepower by the enemy.
Wounded a second time, Duke received battlefield first aid and returned to his position.
The ferocious attacks were renewed the next morning and Duke remained in charge of his men. In spite of his wounds Ray repeatedly braved enemy force to move amongst his men to instill confidence. During said action he was wounded a third time in both legs and was unable to walk. “Realizing that he was impeding the progress up the hill, he urged them to leave him and seek safety.”
As his fellow soldiers retreated to their own safety, Ray was last seen pouring devastating gun fire into the on-pushing North Koreans.
He was subsequently taken prisoner and died as a prisoner of war several months later.
Posthumously Duke was awarded the Medal of Honor, Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, Prisoner of War Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Koreans Presidential Unit Citation, Republic of Korea War Service Medal in addition to the World War II Victory Medal.
His remains were eventually returned to the United States and he was buried in the Chattanooga National Cemetery with full military honors.
Although he has received less public acclaim than many of the other Medal of Honor recipients from this area his display of courage and protection of his men after being wounded three times is a living monument to his dedication to the military service in defense of our country.
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Jerry Summers can be reached at email@example.com