Recognition takes 70 years for NC man who fought in Korea

Wake Forest School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic wins the case for a Purple Heart

Mr. Brown with Purple Heart

Eighty-nine-year-old James Brown, wounded in battle while fighting behind enemy lines in the Korean War, has waited 70 years to be recognized as a United States veteran.

Law students and professors working with Wake Forest University’ School of Law’s Veterans Legal Clinic have helped Brown with the long legal battle to correct his military record and restore his right to be buried with the American flag he fought for so many years ago.

On Saturday, Nov. 12, he will be honored during halftime of the Wake Forest football game. The short ceremony will celebrate the setting aside of his dishonorable discharge and the restoration of the Purple Heart he earned for injuries sustained in the war.

“I am very happy about it,” Brown said. “I am very happy about the upcoming celebration of the awarding of the Purple Heart. I am also very relieved after having to have to wait such a long period of time to receive the award and the upgraded discharge. I feel that because of the efforts of the Veterans Legal Clinic they have been a blessing for me.”

Serving in Korea

Brown in KoreaThe story began in 1950, when Brown followed in his older brother’s footsteps and enlisted in the Army at the start of the Korean War. He served in one of the few racially integrated units, the 45th Infantry Division, when he deployed to Korea in March of 1952. He earned a combat infantryman badge for engaging the enemy.

During a night combat patrol in June, Brown and his platoon crossed the line of demarcation walking through a low grassland area. Brown was the point person for his unit, traveling in a diamond formation when his platoon came under enemy mortar fire. Shrapnel from a grenade hit Brown in his arm and leg. He was hospitalized in Osaka, Japan, for nearly two months before returning to duty and rejoining his unit. When he raised a tactical safety concern to his chain of command multiple times, his grave concerns were ignored. His platoon leader refused to give him permission to speak with company level leadership to report the dangerous situation. Only 19 years old, Brown made the fateful decision to risk his own liberty and walked 15 yards in the direction of his company commander.

Brown was court-martialed and charged with disobedience of a superior commissioned officer. After a 30-minute trial in a tent near the battlefield, he was issued a dishonorable discharge and sentenced to five years in prison.

WFU Veterans Legal Clinic steps up

Decades later, Brown approached the School of Law‘s Veterans Legal Clinic to try to correct his military record.

“We have been honored to work with Mr. Brown in his effort to obtain veteran status and restore his Purple Heart recognition,” said Eleanor Morales, director of the legal clinic, who is herself a veteran.

The legal clinic works with former service members to correct injustices in their military records.

“We spent a full academic year working diligently to craft the best case that we could, which was difficult as we were working with incomplete and even destroyed records, and what we did have was from the 1950s, and often difficult to decipher,” said William Crotty, who along with fellow 2022 law school graduate Ashley Willard, worked on the case as a student. “After countless hours of working closely with Mr. Brown, brainstorming, researching, drafting and revising, we finally submitted the completed petition to the Army Board for Correction of Military Records.”

In the 700-page document, they argued that the dishonorable discharge was fueled in part by racism.

“Racism led to a miscarriage of justice,” Morales said. The results indicate that the Army agrees.

The discharge review process can be complicated and confusing, which makes it difficult for former service members to navigate alone, and many clinic clients cannot afford to hire an attorney to help them. The Veterans Legal Clinic bridges this gap while also giving law students the opportunity to take on their first clients, and if they are successful, make a significant impact in their clients’ lives.

“We faced challenges – most of Mr. Brown’s service records had been destroyed in a 1973 fire at the National Personnel Record Center and his own copies had been lost – but we were ultimately able to prove that Mr. Brown had earned a Purple Heart,” said Willard.

The clinic also assisted him in correcting his records to ensure Brown had documentation of the combat infantryman badge he earned back in 1952. And, most importantly, his dishonorable discharge was set aside.

“The positive outcome was extremely rewarding,” Willard said. “In the face of injustice, Mr. Brown exhibited tremendous grace and resilience. He had been waiting seven decades for justice, and we were able to help him achieve it. He served his country with honor, and now, finally, he has the Purple Heart and discharge status to reflect that.”

Brown will visit Wake Forest on Veterans’ Day, Nov. 11, to meet with Morales, the students and others who helped with the case. Media are invited to talk with Brown at 1:30 p.m. on Friday and cover the ceremony during halftime of the game on Saturday, Nov. 12. To arrange interviews with Brown, Eleanor Morales or the students who worked with the Veterans Legal Clinic, contact Cheryl Walker at media@nullwfu.edu or 336-758-6073 or Tara Ebrahimi at the law school, ebrahit@nullwfu.edu.

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