Korean War hero Lieutenant Robert Elwell killed in National Guard training in 1963


In 1963, Linda Pettigrew was only recently 5 years old when notice was received that her father had been killed while serving in the Missouri National Guard.

At only 30 years old, he had already served in the Korean War, had obtained a Purple Heart and had already had the distinction of being the youngest master sergeant in the United States Army.

Decades later, Pettigrew and his family are striving to ensure that the legacy of his service does not quietly fade over time.

Robert D. Elwell was born January 14, 1933 in the community of Knob Knoster. He then graduated from College High School in Warrensburg before making the decision to enlist in the United States Army in July 1950, the month after the start of the Korean War.

“I have to think that one of the reasons my father chose to enlist in the military was because my grandfather, Cecil Elwell, served in the military during World War I,” said Linda Pettigrew. “In addition, my three uncles – his older brothers – served in the military during World War II.”

The 17-year-old traveled to Fort Riley, Kansas, where he underwent several weeks of basic combat training before being quickly thrown into the cauldron of raging overseas fighting.

“Sent to Korea in November 1950, Elwell was posted to (B Company of) 7th Regiment, 3rd Infantry Division,” the Kansas City Times reported on October 12, 1951. “He started out as BAR (Browning Automatic Rifle) male, later became deputy squad leader and finally platoon sergeant, ”the newspaper added.

The young soldier revealed a glimmer of his courage, born in Missouri on June 7, 1951, when he was wounded in action near Chu Ni and subsequently received a Purple Heart. On the same date, his actions earned him a Bronze Star medal for his heroic exploits.

Sgt. 1st Class Elwell “was attacking a series of well-defended enemy locations on Hill 687, (when) the advance of the assault platoons was halted by heavy fire of small arms, automatic weapons and mortars. enemies, ”explained the official award quote.

“Realizing the danger of remaining in the dam, Sgt. Elwell, quickly deciding to continue the assault, led his platoon forward. Although painfully injured almost immediately, he refused medical help and exposed himself several times in order to direct the fire and movement of his unit.

Returning to the United States in August 1951, Elwell was assigned to the 506th Military Police Company at Fort Leonard Wood. Newspapers across the country shared his story, noting that he earned the honor of being the army’s youngest sergeant at just 18.

Staff Sgt. Elwell was transferred to Fort Riley, Kansas, and in September 1954, married the former Mary Vaughan. The couple then moved to Warrensburg, welcoming two daughters in the years to come. Elwell left active service to study and received his bachelor’s degree from Central Missouri State College.

He continued his military service by enlisting in the Missouri National Guard. His training and experience as a senior non-commissioned officer earned him an appointment as an officer, becoming first lieutenant of the 35th Administration Company at Sedalia. He worked full time as a repairman for the Gas Service Company in Warrensburg.

In 1955, Lieutenant Elwell was reassigned to the 635th Missouri National Guard Aviation Company located in Warrensburg, with which he was serving when tragic circumstances arose.

“A MISSOURI GUARD PLANE crashes; 2 OFFICERS DEAD ”, title of an article in the St. Louis-Post Dispatch boldly proclaimed on August 6, 1963.

An article in the Warrensburg Star Journal on the same date explained that Lt. Milo Hutton was flying an L-19 single-engine aircraft on an artillery training mission at Camp Ripley, Minnesota. Lt. Elwell was also on the plane, playing the role of an observer.

“The light aircraft, used in the strafing maneuvers, crashed in a troop training area …”, reported the Journal. “The weather was good and no cause of the accident can be determined. The wreckage burned down.

A soldier training in the area was able to rush to the crash site and extract Elwell from the smoldering debris, but the young lieutenant died in an ambulance as he was rushed to hospital . It is believed that the pilot, Lieutenant Hutton, did not survive the initial impact of the crash.

Elwell, 30, was buried at the Christian church, followed by his internment in the cemetery at Warrensburg Memorial Gardens.

Linda said her younger sister was only 3 and she herself was only 5 when their father passed away. She claimed that although she grew up without her father’s wisdom and guidance, she was blessed with a handful of lasting memories.

“My father was a man of high moral standards and an unwavering faith, and my mother feels that what he saw – and probably had to do – in wartime was extremely difficult for him,” he said. she declared. “He never spoke to my mom about his service and would never say much about it.”

She added: “At a very young age he instilled in me a strong faith in Jesus, a very strong sense of family and a love for my country,” said Pettigrew. “I am very proud of the man my father was and it is evident from his record of service and character, which has been shared with me by my family and friends.”

Jeremy P. Ämick writes on behalf of the Silver Star Families of America


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