Purple Heart, a long time coming
June 23, 2010
WHITEFIELD — The Whitefield VFW presented a long awaited purple heart last Monday to the sons of Leland Rockwood Dunham, a man that died as a POW in the Korean War.
"I'm very proud," said Paul Dunham, Leland's son, "but it's been a long drawn out thing after 50 plus years."
Post Commander Roy Birard and past Commander Bob Herman are both Korean War veterans themselves and presented the Purple Heart to Rockwood Dunham of Whitefield and Paul Dunham of Franconia. They did so after a VFW chorus of "God Bless America," the Pledge of Allegiance and a somber reading of Leland's history.
"This VFW post is honored to present this Purple Heart tonight...and help bring closure to your family," said Post Commander Birard.
Born December 12, 1911, Lieutenant Colonel Dunham of Littleton died as a prisoner of war in Korea on August 7, 1951. According to information provided by the VFW he was taken only a month into the war at the Battle of Taejon in South Korea on July 20, 1950 where superior numbers surrounded US forces.
"That was the worst time he could have been there," said Mr. Herman, "I mean it wasn't good after, either, but at that point we just weren't ready."
Once captured LTC Dunham was forced to walk to North Korea on the "Tiger Death March." He eventually died from Beriberi, a thiamine deficiency and his remains were never recovered.
This was an object of major despair for the Dunham brothers' mother who was never given the ceremonial American flag that all military widows receive, they noted. Their mother died recently, on May 18.
Leland Dunham also served in WW II from which he received the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military decoration in United States Army, for taking out a German tank with a rifle grenade. He also received his first purple heart for being shot in the leg during the Battle of the Bulge.
Russ Armstrong, Chair of the State Committee on Aging, was involved in the awarding of the Purple Hearts in N.H. According to Mr. Armstrong it wasn't until October 2008 that POWs who died at the hands of their captors were eligible for the award. The U.S. Secretary of Defense signed a directive at that time making it so, he explained.
The last time Rockwood saw his father he was 11 and the Dunham family had traveled with their father to Japan were the troops were stationed.
When asked what he remembered of his father Rockwood had this to say, "It's very hard...as an 11 year-old what do you remember about your parents? Sometimes when they're gone you miss them and you wonder why they are gone. I remember an adult that was authoritative and fun loving, a loving person that took care of his family very well. Life was good when he was around."
Rockwood followed a military path as well joining the Army Corp of Engineers as a Second Lieutenant in 1960 and served until 1988.