- Associated Press - Monday, May 30, 2016

YELLVILLE, Ark. (AP) - The life and sacrifices of Cpl. Charles L. Gilliland were honored at a memorial last week, 65 years after the Medal of Honor recipient’s death in the Korean War.

Friends, family, veterans and others gathered at Layton Cemetery in Yellville shortly before midday to pay respects to Cpl. Gilliland, who was killed on April 25, 1951 near Tongmang-ni, Korea, providing covering fire so the rest of his unit could retreat, The Baxter Bulletin (https://bit.ly/1UfEWku ) reported.

“There are many dates in the history of our great nation, and although few Americans will know the heroism of Cpl. Gilliland on that April day in 1951, we are here today to know and honor his life and memory,” said Abbi Christler, an officer with the Baxter County Veteran Services Office, in her opening comments at the memorial.

Gilliland was a private first class serving with Company I of the 7th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division, of the United States Army when his company came under fire from a numerically superior Chinese force. From his defensive position, Gilliland had a clear view of the mountain pass through which many of the attackers were approaching. Using his automatic rifle, he fired continuously into the pass, even after suffering a severe head wound while chasing down two Chinese soldiers who had breached the defensive line. When orders came to pull back, PFC Gilliland voluntarily stayed behind and provided cover fire so the unit could withdraw. He was never seen again.

He was posthumously promoted to corporal, and in 1952, recommended for the Medal of Honor. In 1954, after hostilities had ceased and no sign of Gilliland was found, he was declared dead. The Medal of Honor was formally presented to his family in December of that year during a ceremony at the Pentagon. One month shy of his 18th birthday when he earned the award, Gilliland was the youngest Medal of Honor recipient of the Korean War.

A headstone for Cpl. Gilliland is located beside the graves of his parents, L. Carl and Eva M. Gilliland. The marker bears his full name, Charles Leon Gilliland, his birth and death dates, his rank, that he fought in Korea and that he was a Medal of Honor recipient.

“We’re here to celebrate a heritage and a sure knowledge that men like Charles Gilliland felt that what we believe in was important enough to die for,” Rev. Dr. Thomas Yoder told those in attendance while officiating the service. “How can we do less?”

Cpl. Gilliland is survived by two siblings, Billy Gilliland of Harrison and Pauline Mears of Yellville. Both were in attendance at Tuesday’s memorial, which featured full military honors.

“He was very brave,” Mears said of her late brother. “For a 17-year-old boy, I can’t even imagine. He’s my hero.”

The second of nine children, Cpl. Gilliland was born May 24, 1933, in the Colfax community near Mountain Home, and his family moved to Marion County when he was a teenager. The date of the memorial service was chosen to coincide with his birthday; he would have been 83 on Tuesday.

“I do not remember a lot, I was so young,” said Mears, who was 8 years old the last time she saw her brother. “He wanted to be strong. He was into bodybuilding before that was a thing. He would work out, hitting a punching bag all day long, in weather so hot you could not stand it. At school, he would carry kids around on his shoulders. He didn’t do it to show out, but to get stronger.”

“From reading about him, he was so courageous,” Christler said before the service. “He was loved by his family. His siblings have some great stories about him. To lay him to rest gives them some closure.”

During the service, Rev. Yoder noted that Cpl. Gilliland’s sacrifices were made for the people he left back home.

“I get to enjoy the fruits of what people like Charles Gilliland did,” Rev. Yoder said. “When I sit out on my back porch, watch the trees blossom out in the spring, when the flowers begin to bloom and the birds flying over. I know if decide to drive up to Missouri, I don’t need a visa or a passport. I don’t need anyone’s permission to do that. I live in America. I live in Arkansas. I live in the big city of Cotter. Folks, this is home, and that’s what Charles Gilliland was fighting for. This was his home.”

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Information from: The Baxter Bulletin, https://www.baxterbulletin.com


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