ST. ALBANS, W.Va. -- Living along the scenic banks of the Coal River in St. Albans with his wife, Nancy, Korean War veteran James DeCarlo still thinks about the tense times he spent on Pork Chop Hill and in other battles back in 1953.
His service earned him numerous honors, as well as a Purple Heart medal. It left him with other, less-pleasant reminders, as well.
"Today, I still can't watch movies like 'Platoon' or 'Band of Brothers,'" DeCarlo said. "They bring back too many sad, bad memories.
"And today, I still dream about the war," he added. "It was so long ago, it is almost like it happened to another person. In other ways, it seems like it all happened yesterday."
Born in Windber, Pa. -- a small town in the coalfields near Johnstown -- on Oct. 31, 1932, DeCarlo graduated from Weir High School in Weirton in 1951.
In June 1952, when he was 19, DeCarlo joined the U.S. Army and was sent to basic training in Fort Meade, Md.
Boot camp lasted more than 26 weeks, including 18 weeks of infantry training and eight weeks of leadership training for new leaders.
"I was shipped to Korea in January 1953," DeCarlo said. "We spent about 36 hours in Japan, where we picked up rifles and [ammunition] shots."
Soldiers in his company in the 31st Infantry Regiment ended up fighting three battles along the 38th Parallel in Korea: on Alligator Hill, Hill Eerie and Arsenal, a military outpost.
"All the soldiers in my company got Bronze Stars because of these battles," DeCarlo said.
The fighting on Pork Chop Hill on March 31, 1953, though, is probably DeCarlo's most memorable battle.
"Pork Chop Hill changed hands a dozen times during the war," he said.
"One night, North Korean soldiers were looking right down on us from Old Baldy, a nearby hill about 150 meters higher. There was a full moon that night," he said. "A 61-millimeter round landed six to eight feet from me. It should have killed me."
Instead, the round had a delayed fuse. DeCarlo got hit with, as he says, "a bushel of dirt" -- and a bunch of shrapnel
"About 100 pieces of shrapnel hit my left side -- my knee, thigh, hand, arm, neck and face. I ended up in a MASH [Mobile Army Surgical Hospital] hospital for two weeks. Unfortunately, they had no female nurses.
"That MASH hospital also had no X-ray machines, so they sent me to a Norwegian evacuation hospital to get all my shrapnel out," DeCarlo said. "There were beautiful Norwegian nurses in that hospital, dozens of them."
After spending time in the second hospital, DeCarlo returned to the battle zones for "light duty."
"I wanted to be sent back up front. I had probably recovered by 90 percent within three to four weeks, but I lost hearing in my left ear" he said. "Since I was hit, I have never been able to even hear a wristwatch tick from this ear."
DeCarlo was discharged from active duty in April 1954. He joined the Army Reserve, where he spent seven years as a master sergeant.
Today, DeCarlo's home is filled with photographs, medals and other memorabilia from his life, including several framed photographs of an iconic movie star.
"I got to see Marilyn Monroe at the 7th Infantry Division headquarters in Korea in February 1953," DeCarlo said. By waiting in line for hours, he got to sit in the front row for her performance.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, when North Korea invaded South Korea. After weeks of negotiations, an armistice was signed on July 27, 1953 that ended the fighting.
DeCarlo said he remembers "my buddy Jim Summy, a cook in the infantry. He was the toughest friend for me to lose.