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Ellijay, GA
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War vet takes ‘Honor Flight’

Former U.S. Senator and combat veteran Bob Dole visits with senior vets at the World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., during their Honor Flight day. Korean War vet Peter Leaming of Dial is in the blue shirt. (Contributed photo)

Peter Leaming of Ellijay Seventh-day Adventist Church visited the World War II Memorial during his recent ‘Honor Flight’ trip to Washington, D.C., in late April. (Contributed photo)
Memorial Day remembered

War vet takes ‘Honor Flight’

by Mark Millican

Peter Leaming paid a high price to fight for the United States — especially since he wasn’t born here. He had to deal with the same ultra-cold weather that claimed hundreds of Army and Marine lives in the Korean War.

“One night on the front I slipped outside and it was somewhere between 35 and 40 degrees below zero, and there was no place to sleep,” he said. “Everything was full and there was no room for anyone else. I slept outside in the snow, colder than you know what. It was cold, and as a result I got frostbite on the feet. My feet are still cold! I’m 100 percent disabled at this point.”

Leaming, 88, of the Dial community in Fannin County, is a native New Zealander and a member of Ellijay Seventh-day Adventist Church.

“In New Zealand, it is a disgrace to be drafted,” he said. “When I was 17 I wanted to go into the war. My dad let me, early in 1945, and I joined the Royal New Zealand Air Force. I was in the Pacific (theater) in World War II — I landed on Guadalcanal — when they dropped the atom bombs.”

After the war, Leaming traveled around “as young folk do” and eventually joined the British Merchant Marines in 1950.

“That was a mistake,” he recalled. “When I got to New York, I jumped ship. You sign on and you sign off, but you’re not supposed to sign off till the trip’s over.”

Still yearning to be in the military, Leaming volunteered and was eventually accepted into the U.S. Army. He completed boot camp at Aberdeen, Md., and then begged a lieutenant in his training company to let him go overseas to Korea. The officer relented and cut his orders.

“I got to Japan, then over to Pusan (in South Korea), and then from Pusan went up to the center of Korea in 1951,” he said.

‘You only get those when you’re shot at’

Leaming was assigned to a military police unit but “hated it and kept asking for relief from that” since he was having to arrest men with senior rank to him and he was harassed for doing so.

He was transferred to the 19th Regimental Combat Team in the 24th Infantry Division.

“We shot a 4.2 — what we called a ‘4 deuce’ mortar — up into the hills,” Leaming explained of his duties. “I did a a brief tour as a forward observer (for artillery). You tell them where to fire. I was relieved in January of ’52 and sent back to Japan and served the rest of my tour there.”

He earned a Combat Infantry Badge because “you only get those when you’re shot at,” he said.

Leaming said a legislator “went to bat for me” after the Korean War and was able to help him obtain his U.S. citizenship in three years. In 1956 he went back to New Zealand and married his childhood sweetheart, then became a policeman in Rochester, N.Y. He served in a motorcycle squad that pulled bodyguard duty for President Kennedy, his brother Robert Kennedy, President Nixon, Governor Rockefeller, Miss World and a host of other people, he remembered.

On the ‘Honor Flight’

Leaming moved to Florida around 1972, but has been in the north Georgia mountains since the 1980s. Late last month, he made a trip to Washington, D.C., with other veterans through the ‘Honor Flight Network’ program.

“We toured the World War II and Korea Memorials,” he said. “It was very touching, and everywhere we turned the people were excited to see us. They treated us like royalty.”

Leaming was asked what Memorial Day means to him.

“Memorial Day brings back a lot of memories,” he said nostalgically. “I stayed in touch with one or two (members of his unit), and talked to maybe three of them since I’ve been out.  Americans do need to understand it’s not an easy thing (to serve in the military). You tend to lose your identity in the service. You do exactly as you’re told — ‘Yes, sir’ without any question ... the American people have forgotten Korea was a war. They were nasty after Vietnam (not honoring war vets).

“I think about the fact that a lot of people are ignorant or uncaring about the veterans, and I think that’s wrong.”

Honor Flight available to vets

The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization created solely to honor America’s veterans for all their sacrifices, according to the website

“We transport our heroes to Washington, D.C., to visit and reflect at their memorials,” a statement on the website says. “Top priority is given to the senior veterans – World War II survivors, along with those other veterans who may be terminally ill.”

Dave Smith, who coordinates the area “hub” of Honor Flight, said there is no cost to veterans.

“It’s one long day,” he pointed out. “We take primarily World War II and Korean War veterans for the day and tour their respective memorials. We leave Conyers at 4:45 a.m. and return there around 10:30 p.m.”

Smith said volunteers — who help transport the vets around the memorials in wheelchairs — put down $500 to pay their own way on the one-day trip. Donations are also accepted by the network to help fund the trip for the older veterans. For more information, call Smith at (770) 483-4049.
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