Korean War veteran gets one last medal
Although Cloquet native Marvin Gleason has been dead for more than 58 years, he lives on … his photographs on display in Cloquet, his name etched in stone on a war memorial across the country, and his memory embedded in the heart of a long ago sweetheart.
Gleason was a World War II veteran, a brave and daring pilot who flew 100 combat missions in Korea and a “kind and wonderful man,” according to Genevieve (Sodeman) Callejo, who first met Gleason almost 70 years ago.
Gleason never married and had no children, but Genevieve hopes he will be remembered in his hometown. She reached out to the Pine Journal this summer to tell his story.
They met after Gleason graduated from Cloquet High School in 1944 and was a student at the junior college located on the third floor of Denfeld High School in Duluth. Genevieve was a junior at Denfeld, and a hall monitor. He invited her to come to Cloquet for a ride on his boat.
She said yes. Her parents brought her to Big Lake to meet him and the two young people went on a picnic and a boat ride.
“He loved speed; he wanted to go really fast,” she said.
Their romance ebbed and flowed for years. Both moved away from Minnesota, she to Dallas and he into the Army and the Air Force. They wrote letters back and forth. She remembered visiting him in Alabama, and a time when he visited her in Dallas. Then she didn’t hear from him for a long time.
“That’s when he went off to do all those missions in Korea,” Genevieve said. She met her future husband, Rick Callejo, after losing touch with Gleason. She was married by the time Gleason was discharged. She said she was very happily married to Rick for 60 years, raising one daughter, now an accomplished attorney like her father.
“I feel fortunate in my life I had two sweethearts, two such magnificent people,” she said.
After her husband’s death in June 2015, however, Genevieve decided it was time to find out what had happened to Gleason.
A call to the Duluth Library resulted in an obituary, revealing that he died at the age of 31 in Mohawk Lake, N.J., in a water-skiing accident. His parents, Clarence and Lillian Gleason, brought their son home to be buried at Maple Grove Cemetery in Cloquet.
“She (Genevieve) told me how he got hit in the head with a ski and drowned; he wasn’t wearing a life jacket,” said Royce McLaughlin, the superintendent at both the Maple Grove and Hillcrest cemeteries in Cloquet. “I guess he was kind of a hot dog. Flew airplanes the same way, I suppose.”
Gleason will be one of six veterans featured in a Veterans Day program at the Carlton County Historical Society museum in Cloquet, starting at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11. CCHS Director Rachael Martin said she’s hoping relatives of the veterans will come and participate, adding to the knowledge of the historical society.
“We often find out more than what we have in our files,” Martin said.
According to old newspaper clippings at CCHS, Gleason escaped death more than once as a pilot. He walked away from an airplane crash at Offutt Air Force base in Nebraska, after flying in a jet training exercise with another pilot and crash landing short of the runway.
In Korea, there were many close calls.
Gleason was awarded both the Distinguished Flying Cross and the Air Medal for his service in Korea. According to the commendation letter on file, Gleason successfully completed 30 combat missions between Aug. 18 and Oct. 26, 1951, for which he was awarded the Air Medal, now framed at CCHS along with a photo of Gleason.
For those missions, Gleason flew an F-80 type aircraft.
“Flying at very low altitude, Lt. Gleason strafed, napalmed and rocketed enemy tanks, trucks, troops and artillery in the face of concentrated enemy ground fire, contributing immeasurably to the efforts of the United Nations Force,” the medal commendation reads.
Another newspaper clipping tells how Gleason and another pilot from the Fifth-First Fighter Interceptor Group got separated from their flight due to temporary mechanical failure and, on the way back to the base, spotted a group of Chinese camouflaged trucks on the Sachang-ni-Suan road. The two pilots are pictured holding up 17 fingers for the 17 trucks they destroyed or damaged deep in enemy territory.
After he was discharged, Gleason became a co-pilot for Trans-World Airlines, according to his obituary.
Last year, Genevieve decided that Gleason should join her husband — who also served in Korea — on a list of veterans whose names are mounted on the Korean War Memorial in San Francisco. To find out more about his military career, she submitted a Freedom of Information Act request to the United States Army and Air Force. Months later, she got a packet of information, but not much. She learned his exact dates of service: Gleason was in the Army from Aug. 9, 1944 to Feb. 27, 1945 during World War II and in the Air Force from Feb. 5, 1950 to Dec. 18, 1957, although he was discharged in January 1954. In addition to his Air Medal and DFC, Gleason also received the Korean Service Medal and the National Defense Service Medal while he was in Korea.
He would receive one more medal, this one from the South Korean government, issued earlier this year. Called the “Ambassador For Peace” medal, Genevieve was instrumental in obtaining the medal for Gleason, which was sent to her home in California.
She traveled to Cloquet and Duluth this summer, and contacted McLaughlin, who found Gleason’s grave for her among the rows of maple and pine trees and agreed to epoxy the new Korean medal to the white marble gravestone.
“Korean War Veteran,” it reads. “You will always be our hero.”
IF YOU GO
The Carlton County Historical Society will hold a Veterans Day Program at 1 p.m. Friday, Nov. 11 featuring the six military personnel whose medals, service bars and awards of achievement are included in the museum's current exhibit "The Power of Pins." Learn more about J.C. Long, a Cloquet World War I veteran; Marvin Gleason, a Cloquet pilot during the Korean conflict; Louise Jewell Wimmer, a Carlton U.S. Coast Guard World War II veteran; John H. Pigman, a Cloquet West Point graduate serving in the Korean theater; John Buytaert, a Cloquet U.S. Army veteran and Minnesota National Guard member, and Harold Michelson, a Carlton County World War II U.S. Navy veteran serving in the Pacific. Visit with their relatives and help commemorate their service on Veterans Day.