Nov. 10 was a special day for Korean War veteran Merlin Earlywine of Lewistown, Mo.

Nov. 10 was a special day for Korean War veteran Merlin Earlywine of Lewistown, Mo.
He was finally awarded a Purple Heart that had been promised to him 62 years earlier, for injuries suffered on Nov. 6, 1951. The ceremony was at the Lewis County Courthouse in Monticello, with state officials joining the local crowd.
“It was a nice thing,” he said. “There was a huge crowd, and it fell just right with Highland School. They have a deal for a history class to put a program on every year. There is monument for each branch (of the military). The teacher said it couldn’t have worked any better.
“They had three fire trucks and one with a big flag,” Earlywine continued. “I didn’t know it was that special - it was just the medal presentation.”
Earlywine knew he was eligible for a Purple Heart, but he “just let it go by the wayside,” he said. “I thought about it and had it put on my license plate for the car, and I mentioned it to my son-in-law. He told his wife, my daughter (Linda Whitaker) and they wanted to pursue it,” and she contacted Congressman Sam Graves, which resulted in Earlywine finally receiving it. It was presented to him by State Sen. Brian Munzlinger.

Injured in North Korea
remained in the country

Earlywine was wounded in 1951 at an outpost in North Korea, 25 miles north of Seoul. However, his wounds did not send him home. After being hospitalized for 18 days, he said, “I went back to the company, and (later) the whole division moved to Japan.”
His wife, Norma, explained he still has shrapnel in his shoulder.
While serving in Japan, he was transferred to another company, where he met Vernon Dillman of Hannibal, the man whose 1952 Hannibal Courier-Post would lead him to his future wife, Norma Hunt of Ralls County, Mo. The Courier-Post published an article about the couple in 1994, when they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary.
Now the Earlywines have five children, 17 grandchildren and will soon have 21 great-grandchildren, with the one due to be born around Christmas. Their children are Karen Olson of La Grange, Ill.; Janet McCoy of Leonard, Mo.; Delbert Earlywine of Monroe City, Mo.; Linda Whitaker of Ewing, Mo.; and Kathy Wood of Wright City, Mo. All five were present when he received his Purple Heart.

Saw future wife’s photo
in 1952 Courier-Post

Earlywine explained that he was from Mountain Valley, Iowa, and he believes God provided the circumstances that led him to Norma. Dillman was sharing a “goodie box” of cookies from Hannibal, and the Courier-Post was in the box. He saw a picture of Norma in the paper. She was among 13 girls in the Ralls County 4-H queen contest. “I picked the dream of my eyes,” he said, “She had such a sweet smile.”
His Army buddies did not think he had the courage to write to a stranger, but he proved them wrong. The girls’ addresses were published, and he was not the only soldier who wrote to them, but he was the only one in his company who received a reply.
Why did she decide to reply? “When I got the letter,” she said, “my brother was in Korea and I had one in Germany. I got this strange letter and asked my parents what to do. My dad said ‘The boys like to get letters, and it won’t hurt to answer.’”
He continued the story, explaining that she wrote back and said her brother, Walter, was in Korea, but she did not expect them to meet. Then he learned her brother was in the company only a fourth mile from his, so “I meet him before I met her.”
In June 1953 Earlywine was back home and came to Hannibal to meet Norma on June 10. “I had eight months to go in Army,” and they became engaged April 18, 1954. He said that day was eventful, because he proposed after midnight on a Sunday and that morning he joined St. John Lutheran Church in Hannibal and was baptized.
They were married on Sept. 19, 1954. “Two years from the time I wrote the first letter, we got married,” he said.
”We have made it 59 years. Sixty is coming up next September, if all goes well.”
The couple has been farming all their married life until three years ago, when they retired and move to town.
What advice do they have for young couples, who hope to stay together this long? “The word is commitment,” they agreed.
“We made a commitment, and we stuck to it,” she said. “Just stick to your commitment you make before God. That is what we have done, and it has worked.”