What are the chances? Two young men, one from Wurtland, Kentucky and one from Worthington, Kentucky, about a mile apart as the crow flies, got to know each other while working as CSX workers for the Chessie system, then go off to the Korean War, and both perform heroic acts to save the lives of others — one losing his life. And both would receive the Congressional Medal of Honor?
That’s what happened in the lives of Ernie West, who now resides at a nursing facility in Wurtland, his hometown, and John “Jack” Collier who lost his life saving others.
“There’s something in the water that he have such honorable young men,” Tom Clay, one of the organizers of the Medal of Honor Day event March 24, said. “Ernie made it home from Korea, Jack did not. We had wonderful heroic men at that time.”
The area will honor both at the annual Medal of Honor Day, which is actually March 25, but this year has been moved to March 24 to allow students in the area to attend the event.
“We get together and Mr. West comes, and we have a little ceremony that doesn’t last long,” Clay said.
The event has been turned into a scholarship fund as well.
“We have three high schools, Greenup County, Raceland and Russell,” Clay said. “We sell a calendar. We get the art students at all three high schools to draw us a picture of what the Medal of Honor means to them, and out of the 25 selections we had this year, we picked 12 to put on a calendar. We sell that calendar for $20 and we turn all the money back into a scholarship for a senior at Greenup County, a senior at Raceland, and a senior at Russell. We only sell 100 calendars and the money goes back in and we do it again next year.”
The 12 individual students whose art work is on the calendar are entered into a contest, and third place receives $25, Second place, $50, and the cover art designer receives $100.
Brian Mosier, an art teacher at Greenup County High School did two depictions, one of Ernie West, who rescued his platoon one at a time, by carrying the wounded out of the line of fire. The other of Jack Collier, who climbed up to the enemy’s birds nest and took it out, then fell on a grenade to save his fellow soldiers.
The public is invited to help celebrate Congressional Medal of Honor Day Friday March 24, at 10 a.m. at the Wurtland Volunteer Fire Department in Wurtland, Kentucky.
Reach Frank Lewis at 740-353-3101, ext. 1928, or on Twitter @franklewis.