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Obituaries

David Bleak, 74; Won Medal of Honor in Korea

March 31, 2006|From the Washington Post

David B. Bleak, an Army medic during the Korean War who received the Medal of Honor, has died. He was 74.

Bleak died March 23 at Lost Rivers District Hospital in Arco, Idaho. He had emphysema, Parkinson's disease and complications from a broken hip.

Bleak was a strapping Idaho youth -- more than 6 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, Bleak was serving in the 223rd Infantry Regiment of the 40th Infantry Division. He volunteered to join a reconnaissance patrol whose mission was to capture an enemy prisoner for interrogation.

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

At this point, Bleak ran into the trench, killed two of the enemy with his large 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 bounced off the man's helmet and rolled into the trench.

During that engagement, Bleak was shot in the leg but ignored his wound to care for others. Later, while heading back to Allied lines with a wounded buddy hanging from 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 Bleak's citation for the Medal of Honor, the military's highest award for valor.

In October 1953, he received the medal from President Eisenhower at a White House ceremony.

David Bruce Bleak was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho, on Feb. 27, 1932.

After his military service, Bleak lived in Wyoming and worked variously as a rancher, grocery store meat cutter and truck driver.

Starting in the mid-1970s, Bleak spent a decade as a dairy farmer in Moore, Idaho.

Then he became a janitor at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory, a nuclear research test facility.

Bleak retired in the mid-1990s as chief hot-cell technician, helping to store and dispose of fuel rods.

Survivors include his wife of 45 years, Lois Pickett Bleak; four children; nine grandchildren; six great-grandchildren; and two brothers.

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