Korean War vet retires after 62 years federal service
March 28, 2013
YONGSAN GARRISON, Republic of Korea -- We hear it all the time. People join the military, and plan on completing just one tour of duty, maybe two. Joseph Shepard was one of those people, but fate had other plans for him.
In 1947, Shepard joined the U.S. Army National Guard at the age of 17. In 1951, the California native was drafted into the U.S. Army during the Korean War. He planned to leave the Army when his first term was up, but he changed his mind, reenlisted and served 40 years on active duty.
"I didn't plan to be in that long," Shepard said with a chuckle.
From September 1951-1953, he served as a Medical Supply Specialist in the Japan Medical Depot attached to the sub Medical Depot and 3rd Infantry Division, Korea.
"He has served in Korea when most of this country was reduced to rubble," said Lt. Gen. John Johnson, commanding general, Eighth Army, during Shepard's civil service retirement ceremony at Eighth Army Headquarters on U.S. Army Yongsan Garrison, March 28. "Joe understands and appreciates the role we (U.S. forces) play here in Korea. He has dedicated many years of his life to this partnership."
In 1965, Shepard was promoted to the rank of Sergeant First Class. Each month he reported to his colonel for a promotion board, and fate stepped into his career again.
"He (the colonel) got tired of me bothering him so he gave me a 24 hour deadline to apply for the chief warrant officer (CWO) program," Shepard said. "Two years passed, and one day I got a call from a man asking to speak with 'MR. SHEPARD.' I was used to being called Sergeant Shepard, so it sounded pretty strange to me."
The phone call was to inform him that he was being promoted to the rank of CWO1. "The funny thing was I had forgotten all about that paperwork I filed two years earlier," Shepard said.
His stateside duty assignments included Fort Richardson, Alaska and Washington, D.C. As both a Korean War and Vietnam War veteran, Shepard has seen and experienced many changes in the U.S. Army during his time in uniform.
At the time of his military retirement in 1991, Shepard was Chief of Supply Division, U.S. Army Garrison Camp Page in Chunchon, South Korea. A civilian co-worker talked him into applying for a Department of the Army civilian position working in his supply area of expertise, and he has served in South Korea ever since.
"His length of service is amazing," said Robert Brown, who has worked with Shepard for two years. "When you see someone who is that dedicated to serving his country, it's very inspirational."
Shepard thanked the room full of dignitaries and co-workers for their support through the years of his service, in and out of uniform.
"It's so overwhelming," he said. "It has been a successful career, and a long career. Thank you for being here for me today."
Major Gen. (ret.) Kim, Dong Oh, of the Republic of Korea Army, made a special presentation to Shepard during the ceremony, and thanked him for his service for Korea.
"There's an old saying in the Korean culture -- If you're going to dig a well, dig only one well. And it takes ten years for the mountain and the river to change places," Kim said through an interpretor. "Mr. Shepard has been serving his country for six cycles of the mountain and river, and he has dug a very good well."
With more than six decades of service to his nation, Shepard's tour of duty as a U.S. soldier and patriot is far from over. He plans to remain in the adopted country he calls home, surrounded by friends on every post here, and volunteering his time on USAG Yongsan. Shepard said he wants to help other soldiers and families any way he can.
"He's been a volunteer his whole life," Johnson said. "You've made a lasting, positive difference in the world, and for that I salute you Joe."
"I admire him very much. He's dedicated to the core, humble, a people person," said Shepard's supervisor Bruno Connor, who has worked with him since 2006. "He's 82 now, and he'll live to be at least 102. You wish everyone could be like Joe."
Shepard's wife, a Korean citizen, passed away a few years ago. Connor said that when he asked his friend why he was choosing to stay in Korea after retirement, the veteran replied, "Because my wife is here. This is my home."
During his extensive military and civilian career, Shepard received the Legion of Merit, Bronze Star Medal, Korean Service Medal, United Nations Service Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Vietnam Campaign Medal, Army Occupation Medal (Japan), Army Good Conduct Medal (3), Army Commendation Medal (6), Army Achievement Medal, National Defense Service Medal (2), Army Service Ribbon, Overseas Service Ribbon (5), Superior Civilian Awards, Certificate of Achievement Awards and the Fifty Years Service in Government Award.