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Korean War vet feels lucky to turn 85 (Video)

Sonny Long

By Sonny Long
Nov. 9, 2012 at 5:09 a.m.
Updated Nov. 10, 2012 at 5:10 a.m.

Henry T. Alex turned 85 years old Friday. He served as an Army combat engineer in the Korean War. Alex was at the Victoria County Senior Citizens Center on East Murray Street in Victoria on Friday.

Henry Alex knows he was fortunate to observe his 85th birthday Friday.

Alex survived enemy fire and harsh winters during the Korean War to return home and even have a chance to make it to that milestone.

"I'm lucky to be here, let's put it that way," said Alex, who served as a combat engineer in Korea for 16 months.

A native of the Yorktown area, Alex was inducted into the Army in 1951. After training in Virginia and Washington state, he spent two weeks on a ship headed to Korea.

"We had to deal with a typhoon part of the time. The ship was going like this," said Alex, making an up and down wave motion with his hand.

His unit, the 13th Combat Engineer Battalion attached to the 17th Regiment of the 7th Infantry Division, deployed for much of the time at an area called the Punch Bowl, an extinct volcano surrounded by mountains.

It was also the site of some of the war's major battles.

"Sometimes we had to go up front to put in pontoons to get the infantry in or get the wounded out," Alex said. "They fired at us from the mountains. They directed their artillery at us and we'd direct our Air Force on them," said Alex, who was promoted from private first class to corporal while in Korea.

Although he escaped injury, Alex saw his share of unforgettable tragedy.

"We had some of them wounded pretty bad. It was sad," recalled the father of four. "One of them in our unit didn't make it to the hospital. That was real sad. That's the worst thing about it. Losing your friends."

Another of the combat engineer's duties was clearing mine fields.

"That was a shaky deal," he said. "Sometimes that detector would go off, and there'd be nothing but a little nail and I'd be glad.

"We shot mortar rounds to blow up mine fields. We never tried to dig them out. It was too risky."

The Korean winter was nothing to mess with either.

"Cold," said Alex when asked to describe the conditions. "Even the rivers froze at night. I was young then. I made it pretty good. We had plenty of clothes. I don't think I could take that anymore."

After leaving Korea, Alex spent his last year in the Army at Fort Polk, La. He got out of the Army with the rank of staff sergeant.

He married in 1957 and his wife Junelda Alex died of cancer in 1992. The couple had three sons and a daughter.

He then went on to a 29-year career as a state prison guard before retiring.

Even after retirement, Alex worked part-time as a ranch hand - building fences, working cattle - skills he had learned as a young man on the family ranch.

Alex continues to work cattle on his Victoria County property.

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