Fedorenko earned a Purple Heart during Korean War
By Amy Robinson
Farmer Staff Writer
On June 25, 1950, the Korean War began when some 75,000 soldiers from the North Korean People’s Army crossed the 38th parallel, the boundary between the Soviet-backed Democratic People’s Republic or Korea to the north and the pro-Western Republic of Korea to the south.
The Korean War was relatively short, but exceptionally bloody. Nearly 5,000,000 people died in total. More than half of them, about 10 percent of Korea’s prewar population, were civilians. (This rate of civilian casualties was higher than World War II’s and Vietnam’s.) Almost 40,000 Americans died in action in Korea, and more than 100,000 were wounded.
One of those wounded Korean War veterans is Watford City resident Eugene Fedorenko. Fedorenko was born on Oct. 12, 1931, in Kief, N.D., where he grew up and graduated from high school before he enrolled at the University of North Dakota.
After his first year at the University, he decided to enlist in the United States Navy in January of 1951, which happened to be around the beginning of the Korean War.
“They were drafting a lot of people at that time,” remembered Fedorenko. “I didn’t really want to join the Army, so I decided to join the Navy as a Corpsman, and enlisted for four years.”
After Boot Camp, Fedorenko went to the hospital corps school in Great Lakes, Ill. He worked for a while in the hospital and in the operating room until he was transferred with the Marines.
Because he was a Navy Corpsman, he was chosen to go with the Marines as their medic. He had to go through the training with the Marines at Camp Pendleton, Calif.
And in August of 1952, he was sent overseas and assigned to an anti-tank outfit. Their job was to stop any tanks moving.
“As soon as I got there, they sent me to the ‘lines’ with the Marines,” said Fedorenko. “The ‘lines’ were separated with ‘no man’s land’ which was a bunch of trenches and bunkers.”
According to Fedorenko, most of the fighting was done in the night- time. His job was getting to the wounded soldiers and patching them up as best as he could, until they could get to the ‘hospital field units,’ where they could get the medical attention they required.
Fedorenko remembers one instance when he and another 150 soldiers were sent to “Bunker Hill.” It wasn’t a very big place. Those 150 American Marines would soon be doing battle with roughly 4,000 Chinese soldiers on that hill.
“When we came back down from Bunker Hill, you might have been able to fit us all into a telephone booth,” said Fedorenko. “We only came back with about 40 guys out of the 150 that started. We had about 120 rounds per minute coming at us.”
Fedorenko’s unit had lost all communication with their main company, and they knew they needed to regain ‘the hill.’
“The next morning, we were overrun by the Chinese,” remembers Fedorenko. “They came up in four waves. The first wave was with all automatic weapons. The second wave was just hand grenades. The third wave was anything the first wave had dropped. And the fourth wave came with picks and shovels, ready to dig up the place. There are so many times I remember, that I shouldn’t even be here.”
By the end of that battle at Bunker Hill, Fedorenko remembers counting over 2,000 dead Chinese soldiers. During that same battle, there were two American soldiers who were stationed on tripods with their guns. Once their tripods were knocked down by the Chinese, Fedorenko remembers these men holding the guns in their arms shooting at the enemy. And once they were done shooting, their forearms were literally fried through the skin.
Once this battle was over, Fedorenko was transferred to a different place with another outfit. This outfit would go out on patrols as close to enemy lines as possible.
It was at this location that Fedorenko recounts a firefight with the Chinese in which he was wounded. He had gone out on patrol one night with his unit in front of the American lines. They ran into an enemy patrol, which turned into a firefight. Two enemy soldiers were wounded when Fedorenko was wounded.
“I caught a hand grenade with my leg,” recalls Fedorenko. “I had patched these two men up the best I could. We took the two enemies back with us. Of course, I was wounded so a couple of the other guys had to carry them. But we ended up back at the med station and rode in the same ambulance together.”
Fedorenko was airlifted to a hospital ship that could treat his injuries from the hand grenade. Medical professionals were able to dig out most of the shrapnel from his thigh, but there are still fragments that remain in his leg today. He was in the hospital for approximately six weeks. After that, he was taken off ‘the lines’ for a while to rest.
Once Fedorenko healed from his injury, he never did go back out to ‘the lines.’ He did however, continue treating soldiers in a hospital and in a clinic.
After he returned from the Korean War, he was stationed back at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He received a Purple Heart, which is a United States decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed, while serving with the U.S. military. And in 1954, he received an Honorable Discharge right before his four-year enlistment mark. Once he was discharged, he returned to North Dakota.
About a year or two before returning to North Dakota, he had met a woman from Watford City through a cousin. And when Fedorenko returned to North Dakota in 1954, he married Elaine that fall.
She had just graduated from Minot State and Fedorenko decided that he wanted to go back to school. He started out in pre-med his first year, and then decided he wanted to pursue something different. He graduated with a Bachelor’s of Science.
Fedorenko and his wife moved to Keene, after Fedorenko’s father-in-law’s health started to deteriorate. Fedorenko ended up helping take care of the ranch, and once his father-in-law passed, he went into a partnership with his brother in law, Harley Olson.
About a year later, Fedorenko took a job as a mail carrier with the United States Post Office. Fedorenko and his wife later moved to Dickinson so he could continue his career with the postal service, with the goal of retiring after 20 years with them. Fedorenko had to purchase a plane to make almost daily flights back and forth from Dickinson to Keene to maintain the ranch and farm operations. While in Dickinson, Fedorenko’s wife worked at the college for 20 years.
After Fedorenko retired from the postal service, he sold cars for a couple of years and decided to buy another ranch with his son, located just north of Medora. This ranch boasted a lodge and operated as a working guest ranch. The lodge could sleep 10 people or more and visitors would come to stay and hunt, hike, or just vacation away.
They owned that ranch for about 10 years before they decided to sell it in 2004. With a house in Dickinson and a house in Watford City, the Fedorenkos decided to put both up for sale, with the plan of moving into whichever home didn’t sell first. Both houses had offers, but the home in Dickinson sold in three days, so the Fedorenkos moved into their home in Watford City, where they have resided ever since.
The Fedorenkos have one son and two daughters. Their oldest daughter, Teri Taylor, is married. She has two daughters and is living in Watford City. Their second oldest daughter, Julie Fedorenko, is single and lives in Phoenix. And their son, Jim Fedorenko, lives in Minto with his wife. Their three children live in Grand Forks. They have a total of five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren that they adore and love spending time with.
The Fedorenkos enjoy splitting their time up between their home in Watford City and a home they rent down in Arizona.
“We like to live here in the summer and go south for the winter,” said Fedorenko. “ And we love spending time with our kids and grandkids.”
As real as his military experiences were in the 1950s, they are just as real today. Fedorenko will always have the memories of his service to this country, and is as proud today as he was when he was on the front lines.