North Korea to restart reactor at nuclear complex, stirring memories of America’s past conflict

Duane Dewey, 83, of Hawthorne, served in the Korean War.
Duane Dewey, 81, of Cross Creek, served in the Korean War.

Following weeks of threats against the United States, North Korea announced it will restart a reactor at its main nuclear complex — the same nuclear complex it agreed to shut down five years ago.

The move stirred disturbing memories in at least one North Central Florida Korean War veteran.

Cpl. Duane Dewey, winner of a Medal of Honor for serving in the Korean War in 1952, said he believes that North Korean ruler Kim Jong Un is too young and inexperienced to be leading a country, much less a country threatening to use advanced weaponry against the world.

“He’s stirring up some trouble really bad over there,” Dewey said. “Hopefully I don’t have to go back.”

Dewey, of Cross Creek, said the political and nuclear unrest unveils decade-old memories of war. At 19 years old, Dewey enlisted in the United States Marine Corps to serve in North and South Korea. On April 15, 1952, he was caught in Chinese firefight near the border of North Korea and used his body to shield his platoon from a hand grenade explosion.

“I ducked down in a hole to light a cigarette and I heard something go, ‘boom,'” Dewey said. “Second grenade rolled in next to me so I grabbed it. My first impulse was to get rid of it, but now… it’s pitch black out, and I didn’t want to throw it out there and hit one of my own men.”

Dewey, 81, said he scooped the grenade out from under him, grabbed the soldier next to him and pulled him down as he said, “hit the dirt, doc — I’ve got it in my hip pocket.” The grenade went off.

He remembers saying, “I can’t take much more of this.”

Two years later, President Eisenhower awarded Dewey the Medal of Honor. Dewey is one of 80 Congressional Medal of Honor recipients alive today.

Dewey, left, with President Dwight Eisenhower.
Dewey, left, with President Dwight Eisenhower.

Much like Dewey’s experiences fighting abroad, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said North Korea’s nuclear threats are not a game. Ki-moon said it is his duty to prevent war and pursue peace in a crisis that has already gone too far. He also said aggressive rhetoric only results in fear and instability.

Dewey's Medal of Honor.
Dewey's Medal of Honor.

Dewey said fear and instability are traits he associates with North Korea to this day, as he recalled the night he was left with the grenade between his body and the ground, just moments before it detonated, shot in the stomach and struck by another grenade.

With war present for nearly every generation, Dewey said that among all of the political and military unrest, his simple wish is that everyone would just get along.

“I don’t know why people can’t get along,” Dewey said. “They’ve had war since the birth of Christ. I think it was like 36,000 Americans who died in Korea. There were 136 medals of honor given out for the Korean war. Ninety-seven never made it home.”

Though he will not be returning to North Korea to assist in any military efforts, Dewey said he hopes America will retaliate if any nuclear weapons are used.

Laura Foreman wrote this story online.

About Christina DeVarona

Christina is a reporter for WUFT News and can be contacted by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing

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