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Gone but not forgotten: Author seeks Medal of Honor for DL man who died a hero in Korea

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. -- Each year on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Americans all over the world remember the military servicemen and women who have given their strength, their skill, their courage, and sometimes, their lives to protect this nation and i...

Submitted photoBecker County native David A. Hurr was a private in the U.S. Army when he was killed in action during the Korean War on the night of Aug. 1-2, 1950, at just 19 years of age. Hurr attended Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes after his family moved there from Ponsford in 1940, but did not graduate from high school before he enlisted.
Submitted photo Becker County native David A. Hurr was a private in the U.S. Army when he was killed in action during the Korean War on the night of Aug. 1-2, 1950, at just 19 years of age. Hurr attended Holy Rosary School in Detroit Lakes after his family moved there from Ponsford in 1940, but did not graduate from high school before he enlisted.

DETROIT LAKES, Minn. - Each year on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, Americans all over the world remember the military servicemen and women who have given their strength, their skill, their courage, and sometimes, their lives to protect this nation and its freedoms.

One of the young men who made that ultimate sacrifice for his country was David A. Hurr, who was killed in battle near Kumch’on, Korea, during the overnight hours of Aug. 1-2, 1950. Just 19 years old, he became the first soldier from Becker County to die in the war.

Though Hurr was posthumously awarded the highly esteemed Distinguished Service Cross in 1951, “Prairie Boys at War” author Merry Helm believes he should have received the top honor - the Congressional Medal of Honor - and in the course of her research at the National Archive and Records Administration (NARA) this past February, she found evidence validatiing her belief.

In Hurr’s service files Helm discovered what she calls the “smoking gun” - a “Proposed Citation for the Medal of Honor.”

“That was my ‘A-ha!’ moment,” she said. And so her quest began in earnest.

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Helm, who spoke Thursday at the Detroit Lakes Public Library, says she just needs “the right partner” to push the Medal of Honor citation for Hurr through Congress.

The Fargo author had the backing of former U.S. Sen. Byron Dorgan, D-N.D., when she managed to get a similar upgrade in award status for Wahpeton serviceman Woodrow Wilson Keeble back in 2008, and she is looking for a U.S. senator or representative from Minnesota to step up in similar fashion.

“I hope to make a case that’s strong enough,” she told the crowd of 30 or so local residents on Thursday. “I just need to find a senator or congressman, or congresswoman, who’s willing to sponsor him.”

Helm first learned of Hurr back in 2010, while doing research for her book series, “Prairie Boys at War,” which tells the stories of Korean War servicemen from the region.

“It took me a few years to learn more about him,” she said. “I just couldn’t find a lot at first.”

What she did find ― the 1951 citation awarding Hurr the Distinguished Service Cross - was pretty impressive.

The citation Along with the award, a citation provides a narrative of Hurr’s action:

“The Distinguished Service Cross is awarded (Posthumously) to David A. Hurr, Private, U.S. Army, for extraordinary heroism in connection with military operations against an armed enemy of the United Nations while serving with Company E, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment (Infantry), 1st Cavalry Division.

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“Private Hurr distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism in action against enemy aggressor forces at Kumch'on, Korea, on 1 and 2 August 1950. During the late afternoon of 1 August 1950, Company E, 5 Cavalry Regiment, to which Private Hurr was attached as a machine gunner, came under furious assault from hordes of enemy soldiers. In the bitter and intense battle that ensued, he was severely wounded in the stomach by a mortar fragment, but he refused evacuation and steadfastly continued to man his heavy machine-gun and deliver devastating fire into the ranks of the stubborn assailants.

“In the early morning hours of 2 August 1950, when the unit was finally ordered to withdraw in the face of increased and extremely intense hostile fire from this numerically superior enemy force, Private Hurr voluntarily remained at his position to provide protective fire for his comrades during the withdrawal. With indomitable courage and determination, he continued to sweep the assaulting force until his ammunition was expended. When last seen alive, armed with only his
rifle, he was delivering deadly accurate fire into the charging foe. When the strong point was regained later in the day, his body was found beside his gun, with numerous enemy dead lying in his field of fire. The voluntary and heroic stand he took in the face of utmost peril resulting in his death enabled his comrades to make an orderly withdrawal and evacuate the wounded.”

After reading about Hurr’s extreme heroism, something didn’t quite sit right with Helm. “I thought, this was wrong,” she said. “This kid deserved way more.”

But she didn’t have much to go on, until her research at NARA in February uncovered the proposed Medal of Honor citation, which came not from one of his army buddies, but from one of the men of E Company, who didn’t know Hurr personally. Along with the citation, there were four letters of recommendation - all of which came from men who were among the wounded he saved by giving his life.

“Each of the four letters stressed that David not only expended all his machine gun ammo, but then fought with his rifle, and finally with what is believed to be his own hands or bayonet.” Helm says. “Each witness stated that when they retook the hill the next day, they found David hadn’t left his position, and that he was found with four bayonet wounds in his chest. This is extraordinary bravery for such a young, new soldier (he had only been in the service for eight months) to have displayed.”

More to the story In his files at NARA, Helm also discovered details about Hurr’s background that led her to get in touch with some of his relatives.

His parents, Bruce and Loretta Hurr, had five children, of whom David was the youngest. Bruce and the children were registered members of the Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma. David's paternal grandfather came up from Oklahoma to take a teaching position on the White Earth Reservation, and they lived in Ponsford until 1940, when the family moved to Detroit Lakes. He attended Holy Rosary School, and played both football and golf for Detroit Lakes High School. He worked as a caddy master at the Detroit Country Club during the summers of 1948 and 1949, and was “well liked,” Helm said.

In January 1950, he enlisted with the Army. After completing his basic training in Fort Riley, Kansas, he was shipped overseas to Japan - right before tensions in Korea broke out into outright war on June 25.

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Two weeks later, Hurr found himself in Korea, as a machine gunner with H Company, 2nd Battalion, 5th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. Because H Company was a heavy weapons unit, Hurr and his fellow soldiers could be lent out to other units of their battalion as needed, at any given time.

Hurr was attached to E Company at the time of his death - which meant that the men who recommended him for the Medal of Honor were virtual strangers, as Helm pointed out during her presentation.

Though she has “a list” of men she has uncovered during her research who, like Hurr, were most likely denied the level of accolades that they truly deserved, Helm says that Hurr is at the top.

“He’s from here, and that means something to me,” she said. “I believe there was discrimination (against him), not because he was a Native American - which he was - but because he was a private.” That, she said, was a type of discrimination that many young, lower ranking soldiers saw in those days.

Helm says she feels a “heavy responsibility” to tell the stories of these young men, and get them the recognition they deserve for their bravery.

“It took on a life of its own,” she said. “It can be all consuming, but I still believe in the work.”

Related Topics: DETROIT LAKES
A reporter at Detroit Lakes Newspapers since relocating to the community in October 2000, Vicki was promoted to Community News Lead for the Detroit Lakes Tribune and Perham Focus on Jan. 1, 2022. She has covered pretty much every "beat" that a reporter can be assigned, from county board and city council to entertainment, crime and even sports. Born and raised in Madelia, Minnesota, she is a graduate of Hamline University, from which she earned a bachelor's degree in English literature (writing concentration). You can reach her at vgerdes@dlnewspapers.com.
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