Six decades after he was injured and held captive for more than two years, a Korean War veteran and retired Charlotte firefighter was finally presented with a Purple Heart for his service on Saturday.
Joseph Ford, 80, also was presented with a Prisoner of War medal during a standing-room-only ceremony in Asheville that drew more than 100 people, including family, other veterans and local firefighters.
Ford worked for 24 years as a Charlotte firefighter. He currently is being treated at the Charles George VA Medical Center in Asheville.
A native of Rutherfordton, Ford enlisted in the Army when he was 17. He worked as a cannoner and provided fire support for troops while stationed in South Korea, according to “Rutherford County in the Korean War,” a book published in 2006.
Ford, an Army corporal, was part of the Army’s 2nd Infantry Division, 15th Field Artillery Battalion.
In February 1951, Ford was injured in combat. The next day, he was taken captive and would be a POW for the next two and a half years.
Ford didn’t tell his captors about his injuries, and still had a piece of shrapnel in his hip when he was taken into custody, officials said. He also sustained injuries while in captivity, said John Elskamp of the Veterans’ Legacy Foundation.
The Lillington-based foundation does research to help veterans receive awards they earned while in service but never received, or in some cases, never knew they had coming. So far, the group has successfully helped 50 veterans receive honors, and has more than 200 open cases, Elskamp said.
The foundation spent more than a year on Ford’s case.
Elskamp said the effort was sparked, in part, by a conversation involving Ford’s wife at a Rolling Thunder motorcycle ride honoring veterans.
Using military records and other information, the foundation was able to get Ford approved for a POW medal.
The Purple Heart took more time because of the lack of documentation about Ford’s wound before he was taken captive. But he was approved for a medal based on the injuries he sustained while a POW, Elskamp said.
Plans then were made for Saturday’s ceremony. Ford did not speak at the 25-minute event, but Elskamp said he believes the veteran was overwhelmed by all that was happening.
“It feels great every time we do this,” Elskamp said. “It just keeps us going.”