By Alex McVeighApril 27, 2009
FORT MYER, Va. (Army News Service, April 24, 2009) -- Fifty-eight years after Sgt. 1st Class William T. Miles parachuted into North Korea, he was awarded the military's second highest honor, the Distinguished Service Cross.
Three generations of Miles family members gathered at Fort Myer's Spates Community Club, April 22, to receive the Distinguished Service Cross in his honor. A medal was given to each of his three siblings who grew up unsure of what had happened to their brother.
"For almost 50 years, we didn't know what happened to him," said Marjorie Hantwerker, Miles' sister. "The Army Ranger organization helped us finally figure out what happened to him in 2001."
In October 2001, Miles' Family held a memorial service for him in Arlington National Cemetery. In August 2003, Miles was inducted into the Ranger Hall of Fame.
As part of Operation Spitfire, a mission designed to locate, strengthen and guide allied troops, Miles jumped into North Korea June 18, 1951. As part of the operation, Miles and his team discovered and destroyed two bases used by the Chinese to launch surprise attacks.
On July 6, a friendly aircraft dropped supplies in broad daylight, allowing Chinese forces to discover the location of Miles' team. Miles and a South Korean lieutenant volunteered to stay behind and delay the Chinese advance, and were never seen again.
The path that led to Miles being awarded the Distinguished Service Cross started with retired Col. Douglas Dillard. While researching the Korean War, he came upon the story of the Soldier who was never seen again after parachuting into enemy territory.
"When I discovered the details [of Sgt. 1st Class Miles], there was no way I couldn't offer a recommendation," Dillard said. "His unit was deactivated three months after the disappearance, and it kind of got lost in the shuffle."
Brig. Gen. Reuben Jones, Army adjutant general, spoke first at the ceremony. He spoke of a man who played football in high school and worked in a factory before enlisting at Fort Dix, N.J., in March 1948. Miles was assigned to the 4th Ranger Infantry, but was serving with the Eighth Army's G-3 Operations at the time of his mission.
After Jones spoke, he presented medals to Hantwerker, sister Janice Payne and another designated for brother Donald Miles, who was unable to attend the ceremony. Donald lives in Philadelphia, and is also a Korean War veteran.
Hantwerker took the podium for a few moments, and though her voice broke at times, she managed to convey the pride, yet sense of loss that her entire family was feeling.
"I don't think it ever entered his mind not to volunteer for that mission," she said. "Just like it probably never entered his mind that his sisters would be here, 50 years later, accepting the Distinguished Service Cross that he rightfully earned."
Miles had also been awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Army Good Conduct Medal, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Ranger Tab, Parachutist Badge with two Jump Stars, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean War Service Medal with four Bronze Service Stars and the Korean War Service Medal Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation.
The Distinguished Service Cross is the second-highest decoration that can be given to a Soldier. It is awarded for extreme gallantry and risk of life in actual combat against an armed enemy force.
"When we heard about the award, we were all a little surprised in a way," said Payne. "But it's a wonderful feeling, and we're so relieved that he was finally recognized."
(Alex McVeigh writes for the Pentagram newspaper at Fort Myer, Va.)