By Staff Sgt. Daniel Martinez
50th Space Wing Public Affairs
Retired Army Master Sgt. Robert Sloate has little trouble recalling the day he received his Korean flag.
As a young platoon leader engaged in battle on Kelly Hill, a famous point of conflict on the face of the Korean Peninsula, he was busy positioning tanks into a strategic blocking formation when a pair of wounded South Korean soldiers approached his position.
As mortars screamed through the air and artillery exploded around them, Sergeant Sloate paused to assist his shell-shocked allies.
“I dismounted from my tank and saw that one soldier was hit pretty bad,” said Sergeant Sloate, 2nd Platoon, C Company, 73rd Tank Battallion. “He really had fear in his face, and I was worried that he might go into shock.”
He wasted no time administering life-saving medical care to his wounded ally. He reached for a large first-aid kit and layed the injured soldier alongside the tank.
“I saw that his rifle belt was badly torn on the left side and started to remove it when I saw shell fragments sticking half-way in the belt and half-way in him,” he said.
He removed the visible fragments, put pressure on the wound to stop the bleeding, and covered as much of the wound as he could with a bandage. After treating the soldier, he told him he was going to be okay and that he was his number one soldier. That’s when the injured fighter reached for something he was carrying in his shirt.
“He smiled, reached into his fatigue shirt and took out this folded flag, which was pretty bloodied, and gave it to me,” he said.
A Soldier’s journey
Mr. Sloate joined the Army in November 1946. His service included a tour of Germany for occupation duty with the U.S. Constabulary, a military security force in the aftermath of World War II. He earned the WWII Victory Medal following his tour. He later would be awarded a Purple Heart during the Korean War for injuries he sustained from shell fragments after an artillery round hit his tank. He took command of his platoon in September 1952 before being replaced by an officer when he rotated out in February 1953.
“You might ask, ‘how can a master sergeant command a platoon?” he said. “I was put in for a battlefield commission and an award after volunteering to go into enemy territory and assist in a recovery of a patrol from the 187th Airborne Regiment.”
After retiring from the Army in July 1968 at Sandia Base, N.M., he held different jobs including Junior Reserve Officer Training Corp instructor, senior Army instructor and a substitute ROTC teacher.
Wherever he was stationed, he kept the wounded soldier’s flag close by. Fifty-seven years had passed when Mr. Sloate decided it was time to return the flag to its country of origin.
“After I turned 80, I felt like it should go back to Korea and placed in one of their Army museums,” he said. “By chance I had just received a 73rd reunion flyer which had the Korean Embassy’s address.”
About a year after he returned the flag, he was invited to a wreath laying ceremony April 12 to commemorate the 60th anniversary of the Korean War at the Korean War Monument in Washington, D.C. There he met with other U.S. and Korean veterans, Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, and other dignitaries.
“I felt it was such an honor to be invited to take part in this ceremony,” he said.
President Myung-bak has also invited Mr. Sloate to be a guest for the 60th Anniversary of the Korean War in Korea this summer.
Two generations come together
When Mr. Sloate’s granddaughter, Tech. Sgt. Candi Fernandez, National Reconnaisance Office Operations Squadron, was in Washington D.C., she learned her grandfather would be in the area at the same time. With his help, she found a way to attend the ceremony as well.
“By chance my unit sent a couple of us TDY in the same timeframe of the event, and we had already planned on being there for a few days,” Sergeant Fernandez said.
Sergeant Fernandez, a veteran of multiple deployments, including tours in Iraq and Southwest Asia, said the ceremony taught her things she never knew about her grandfather’s service.
“It was neat to hear his stories because I had never heard them before,” the sergeant said. “It’s tearful in a joyful sense because we’re both doing a mission for something good for our country.”
She found the experience humbling and said it’s important for servicemembers to look up to those who came before them.
“It was good to be able to listen to their stories, and as a younger person, share my stories with them,” she said. “There are good mentors everywhere, and whether we seek them or not, they’re there.”
Mr. Sloate said he was happy to have his granddaughter’s support.
“I’m very proud of my granddaughter being in the service, and it was wonderful her being able to share this moment with me,” he said. “I have lots of respect for the Air Force and spent a good deal of time working with them before I retired.”
A veteran’s honor
A large green wreath stands at the foot of the Korean War Memorial with a blue and red taegeuk, or yin-yang symbol in the center, adorned with a big white bow. The ceremony paid homage to the servicemembers who lost their lives and those who carry the memory of the service they rendered during the conflict.
Drawing parellels from his past service to current conflicts, Mr. Sloate said it’s important that servicemembers look out for each other.
“We might be better trained and better equipped, but we still must respect and look out for our allies as well as our own,” Mr. Sloate said.
As for being recognized as a war hero, “I dreamed of becoming a Soldier since the start of WWII, and my dreams came true. I don’t know why they call me a hero.”