Soldier David Bleak; Won Medal of Honor

By Adam Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 27, 2006

David B. Bleak, 74, an Army medical aidman during the Korean War who received the Medal of Honor for hand-to-hand combat and for blunting the effects of a grenade that fell near a comrade, died March 23 at Lost Rivers District Hospital in Arco, Idaho. He had emphysema, Parkinson's disease and complications from a broken hip.

Mr. Bleak was a strapping Idaho youth -- more than six feet tall and 250 pounds -- who quit high school and worked in ranching and railroad jobs. After joining the military in 1950, he was selected for medical duty and shipped to Korea.

On June 14, 1952, near Minari-gol, Mr. Bleak was serving in the 223rd Infantry Regiment of the 40th Infantry Division. He volunteered to join a reconnaissance patrol that left at dawn with the mission of finding an enemy prisoner for interrogation.

As he and his comrades walked up the rough slope of Hill 499, they came under automatic-weapons and small-arms fire. Mr. Bleak tended to the casualties and then rejoined the men to continue fighting up the hill. From a concealed trench, the communist forces again plowed down many U.S. soldiers.

At this point, Mr. Bleak ran into the trench, killed two of the communist fighters with his enormous hands -- breaking one's neck and crushing the other's windpipe -- and killed a third by plunging his trench knife into the man's chest. He then jumped atop a fellow soldier to block the impact of a grenade that had just knocked against the man's helmet and rolled into the trench.

During this same engagement, he was hit by a bullet in the leg but ignored his wound to care for others. Later, while heading back to Allied lines with a comrade around his broad shoulders, he was attacked by two communist soldiers armed with bayonets.

"Closing with the aggressors, he grabbed them and smacked their heads together, then carried his helpless comrade down the hill to safety," according to Mr. Bleak's citation for the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.

In October 1953, he received the medal from President Dwight D. Eisenhower at a White House ceremony. His other decorations included the Purple Heart.

David Bruce Bleak was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Feb. 27, 1932. He was raised on a farm north of the city.

After his military service, Mr. Bleak kept mum about his combat record and turned down jobs offered to him by those wanting to do a favor for a war hero. He lived in Wyoming and worked variously as a rancher, grocery store meat cutter and truck driver.

He became a janitor at the Idaho National Engineering Laboratory, a nuclear research test facility. He retired in the mid-1990s as chief hot cell technician, helping store and dispose of fuel rods. Starting in the mid-1970s, Mr. Bleak left the lab and spent a decade as a dairy farmer in Moore, Idaho.

He enjoyed collecting and polishing rocks he found during fishing and hunting expeditions. He joined a local archeological society that dug up mammoth bones.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Lois Pickett Bleak of Arco; four children, Charles Bleak of Cove, Ore., Barbara Martin of Phoenix, Christopher Bleak of Prescott, Ariz., and Bruce Bleak of Moore; two brothers; nine grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren.

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