HUNTER ARMY AIRFIELD, Ga. - In 1953, toward the end of the Korean War, 17-year-old Pvt. David W. Mills, 15th Infantry Regiment, 3rd Infantry Divison, was taken captive by the Chinese during the battle for Outpost Charlie, declared missing in action by the U.S. government, then assumed killed.

After 57 years, Mills, 74, was presented the oldest U.S. military award, the Purple Heart, for wounds received in action in the Republic of Korea by Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, U.S. Army Vice Chief of Staff , during the 91st Annual Society of the 3rd Infantry Division Reunion in Washington, D.C., Sept. 15.

Mills enlisted in the United States Army on Oct. 6, 1952. Within months he was sent to fight in the Korean War and took part in the battle for Outpost Harry. He was firing his Browning Automatic Rifle at enemy soldiers who invaded his trench. He was wounded nine times - twice in the head, six times in the leg and once in the left arm - and was taken captive.

On April 25, 1953, he was officially listed MIA.

"At the time of my enlistment, my Family was living in New York, and so I was listed as KIA Pvt. David W. Mills, New York," Mills said.

Luckily for Mills, soon after his Family was told he had died, the Chinese did something they have never done before - released the names of their prisoners of war to the United States.

Mills was repatriated on Aug. 24, 1953, and the very next day he was placed on the Navy ship USNS John Pope. Ten days later, he landed in San Francisco, Calif., where he was put on the next plane to Buffalo, N.Y. Finally, after 11 days of travel, Mills was reunited with his Family at the airport in Buffalo, Sept. 4, 1953.

"My parents and my brother John were at the airport to welcome me home," he said. "When I looked out the plane window and saw them standing there, my mother was standing with a nun and they had their arms around each other and they were happy - laughing and crying. They looked like they were having a prayer meeting. I came down the aircraft, and I ran as fast as I could over to (my Family)."

As they drove home, Wells began to see signs, "WELCOME HOME DAVE," a caravan formed to welcome him, and they traveled to the two-room school house.

"All the students were standing there with little American flags waving them to welcome me home, and I did not know what to do," Mills remembered. "My father said, 'Get out and wave to them!' I got out and waved and they all cheered. It made me feel really good, being back home."
But the warm welcome couldn't erase the memories of his time in captivity.

"Being a Prisoner of War was devastating," Mills said. "Mainly because you have no control over anything that you did; you were completely dependent upon your oppressors to tell you what time to get up, what to do, what not to do, what time to lie down, what time to do everything. You have no control, no freedom. Freedom is so precious, and the slogan for all Korean Vets is that freedom is not free."

Mills honorably served in the United States Army for 3 years, 2 months and 14 days. He was a Corporal when he got out of the military.

Mills, who is originally from Pennsylvania but now lives in Scottsdale, Ariz., became a member of the Society of the 3rd Infantry Division in 2006 after his wife Shirley came across a listing for a 3rd ID reunion, and since then he has religiously attended all the Society's events.

Mills was featured in the Korean War documentary, "Hold At All Cost," which had its premiere at Fort Stewart's Woodruff Theatre, June 5. The documentary was about the attack and defense of Outpost Harry. Mills and his fellow Dog Face Soldiers had orders to hold Out Post Harry at all cost, and together with South Korean and Greek Soldiers, they fought to defend the "Hill" from the Chinese. The film is intended to air nationally in November 2010, around Veteran's Day, to honor the 60th anniversary of the war's commencement.

After being presented the Purple Heart by Gen. Chiarelli in front of his comrades and Family Members, Mills said he was humbled.

"It was worth the wait. It is a great honor."