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GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) -
Claude St. Julien served his country in the military for 25 years. He was in both the Korean War and Vietnam War, and his family has a long history of military service. These days, this native of Louisiana lives at Gulfport's Armed Forces Retirement Home.
In early September, we featured Mr. St. Julian on our Project Homefront. Claude's father served in WWI, he was a good soldier, who quickly earned a promotion.
That is, until the day the Army realized that despite his light complexion, he was a black man.
"They busted him down to private first class, and said that he lied about his race, which was not so," St. Julien said.
Despite that, Claude says his dad remained proud of his military service until the day he died. As for Claude, he joined the Army in 1953 and soon found himself in the midst of the Korean War.
"I was young and I was afraid," he said. "I have to tell it like it is, I was afraid. I was so frightened."
Eventually, the fear went away. But never far from his thoughts, were his three childhood buddies from back home in Louisiana, all of whom died in the war.
They were certainly on his mind just a few months ago, when Claude went back to Korea. He and some fellow Korean War veterans were there at the invitation of the South Korean government. It was that nation's way of saying, "thank you." Suffice to say, it was a time in Claude's life that he will never forget.
"It was quite a feeling, something very hard to describe," he told us.
Much like our Vietnam Memorial Wall in Washington, in Seoul there is a monument with the names of all the Americans who died in the Korean War.
On that wall are the names of Claude's three childhood buddies. He took a picture of each of their names, and brought those home to the dead soldiers' families. Fighting back tears, he called that a very emotional time.
Claude is a father, grandfather and great grandfather who knows that his life has been blessed. But even today, 58 years after the war ended, he still thinks about those three great friends who never made it home.
"Why did I survive?" he asked rhetorically. "How could I survive this? I mean, here I am at the age of 78 and still here, and those guys are gone. They never lived the life that I lived."
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