Princeton Union Eagle
For five days in July 1953, Duane Broten lay wounded in the trenches on a Korean battlefield where he was held as a prisoner of war.
On Sunday, the former Army sergeant from Spencer Brook Township, was recogonized for his heroics.
Sixty years after being held captive in Korea, Sen. Al Franken pinned the Prisoner of War Service Medal on Broten’s chest. It was the culmination of a 15-year effort by Broten and his family to give the soldier the honor he rightfully earned. Franken also presented the 90-year-old Broten with a flag that had flown over the nation’s Capitol and a certificate stating that Broten had been, in fact, a prisoner of war.
Broten’s injuries sustained in the war were undeniable. He previously received a Purple Heart for his injuries. But it was the Prisoner of War designation that had eluded Broten all these years. Broten’s Army service records were lost in the 1973 fire at National Personnel Records Center in suburban St. Louis, the facility that served as the custodian of military service records. Broten’s records were among the 16 million to 18 million official military personnel records lost as a result of the fire.
Monica Broten, Duane Broten’s wife, submitted 33 pages of documents but was told she didn’t have enough proof that her husband was a prisoner of war.
But with the help of Franken, Damien Drummer of the Department of Veterans Affairs’ St. Paul office and Veterans service groups, medical records were found that verified that Broten was a POW.
On Sunday at the Minnesota State Capitol before about 30 friends and relatives, Broten recalled the day of July 6, 1953, when he was captured by Korean soldiers. Broten was a sergeant in the 7th Division 17th Infantry Regiment, Company A, serving as a light weapons infantry leader and a sniper.
The night of July 6 started out like any other, with Broten and his men retired for the night in a cave.
But sometime during the night they were awakened by gunfire.
It was the start of second battle of Pork Chop Hill.
The Americans returned the gunfire, and a full attack was on. Broten was wounded almost immediately.
“Probably a grenade that landed in the trench right in front of me,” he said.
The men retreated to their cave but just moments after that, an enemy solider stepped into the doorway and gave them some command.
Faced with the option to surrender or die, the men walked out of the cave and into the trenches.
Broten was being carried by two Korean soldiers because he couldn’t walk because of 27 shrapnel wounds he had sustained from the grenade blast. He was drifting in and out of consciousness from heavy blood loss.
“Two of them picked me up, one on each arm, and I passed out right in their arms, so they dropped me down. Two times they did that.”
Instead of being taken to a POW camp like his fellow soldiers, Broten was left in the trench as Chinese and Korean troops kept watch over him.
That’s where a Chinese medic took off his boot and patched the injured, bleeding foot.
On July 10 the enemy soldiers had moved down in the trenches and were not watching Broten.
“I climbed out of the trench and started running down the hill. I only had one boot because the other was removed when the medic patched my foot. I escaped with what I was wearing, my dog tags and a crucifix I wore on a chain around my neck,” according to Broten.
Many, many silent prayers were said,” Broten said.
As he ran, a Chinese soldier threw a grenade but it hit out of range of his location. There was a concertina wire surrounding the trenches that Broten said he had to get through.
Broten was met by two American soldiers at the bottom of the hill. A plane was flown in, and Broten was flown to Seoul, South Korea. After two days in Seoul, Broten was taken to the Tokyo Army Hospital where his wounds were dressed for two weeks. He was then flown to Hawaii and then on to Letterman Army Hospital in California where he spent six months recovering from his wounds.
“God answered my prayers and kept me safe while in the trenches and held captive,” Broten said.
A native of Roseau, Broten returned home to work for Farmers Union Oil. He then joined a threshing crew that worked across the Midwest. He also built grain bins.
Broten later left for Chicago with a group from Roseau to work in the construction field.
Broten eventually took a job delivering mail for the U.S. Postal Service. In 1973 his brother found a great deal on some land near Princeton so Broten transferred to the St. Cloud Post Office and moved to Princeton.
The job fell through, but Broten was able to transfer to the post office in Anoka. He retired from the Anoka Post Office in 1988.