BY O.J. EARLY
It was so cold that 23-year-old Harold Burchette hadn't taken his shoes off for weeks.
Crouched in a trench and covered by darkness, he shivered and gripped his gun.
Glancing up, Burchette spotted a North Korean soldier only a few feet away. Paralyzed by cold and fear, Burchette stared at his enemy.
The North Korean stared back.
Probably assuming Burchette had frozen to death, the enemy soldier wheeled and then trotted away.
"I froze. I couldn't shoot. I just froze," said Burchette. "I could have killed him ... he stood there for maybe a minute. He probably could've killed me."
Near-death experiences were common for the former U.S. Army sergeant, who earned four battle stars while fighting in the Korean War.
A combat veteran of what is sometimes called "The Forgotten War," Burchette was well remembered last week.
Family and friends gathered at his Horton Highway home to witness the presentation of a Quilt of Valor to the Korean War veteran.
The gift was given by the Mosheim-based Greene County Quilters, an organization that presents quilts to honor veterans who have fought to defend the U.S.
Heroes like Burchette.
"It's a great honor," he said when he received his quilt. "I appreciate each and every one of you. I really do."
Burchette saw plenty of combat during his service from 1952 to 1953.
He served in three different divisions in the Army -- 8th Cavalry, 25th Infantry Division and the 3rd Infantry Division.
He spent much of his time fighting in the mountains and valleys of Korea, always mindful of nearby enemy snipers.
"One time we got attacked and they were coming across the mountain like rats. By the hundreds, blowing bugles and just hollering," he said.
"There were so many of them that we had to call in [a tank designed to support infantry troops]. They finally got them off of us. We fought there about all night."
The Korean War began in June 1950 and ended in July 1953. U.S. forces, acting under the authority of the United Nations Security Council, entered the war on behalf of South Korea, which was battling Communist North Korea, backed by China.
MANY DID NOT RETURN
More than 30,000 American soldiers died in combat in the Korean War.
Burchette was a close friend of some of the soldiers who never returned home. He lost several fellow soldiers on one of his many late-night patrols.
"There was one night that there were 15 of us," he said. "Five of us made it back. A lot of my buddies didn't come back."
Seeing your countrymen die had its impact, and despair sometimes gripped the soldier's heart.
AWARD FROM SOUTH KOREA
On one cold night, the burden was almost more than Burchette could handle.
"There were snipers all around. The Chinese army was on the mountain," he said.
Burchette, freezing and exhausted, decided to create a make-shift bed and sleep.
"I give up. I said, 'This is it Lord,'" he related in an interview last week. "'They can do what they want to with me.'
"But I got up the next morning all right."
Burchette survived the war with no injuries and returned home in 1953. He served 14-and-a-half months with no furlough.
Following his service, the South Korean government presented Burchette with an award for "helping save their country."
"I've had boys right beside of me get shot in the back," he said. "The good Lord was just watching over me."
ABOUT QUILTS OF VALOR
The Quilts of Valor Foundation was founded about 10 years ago by a mother whose son was serving in Iraq.
The Delaware woman's goal was to see that returning veterans "were welcomed home with the love and gratitude they deserved," according to the organization's website.
"He is so deserving," said Gaynelle Ball, Burchette's sister.
Burchette's wife, Scottie, agreed.
"He used to wouldn't talk about it at all," she said. "He's been through so much. I'm so happy for him to get this."