Gary O’Dell

GaryGary O’Dell

Branch:

U.S. Marine Corps, 1953-1956; Sgt. Mike Battery, 4th Battalion, 11th Marine Regiment, 1st Marine Division; 155mm Howitzer Company.

Places served:

San Diego, Calif., for Basic Training

Camp Pendleton, Calif.

Served in Korea for 11 months and 14 days.

Returned to Camp Pendleton.

 

Medals:

United Defense, Pacific Theatre, Korean Theatre, Good Conduct Medal, Korean Presidential Citation, Expert Marksman, United Nations Service Medal.

Memories of Service:

At Bristol High School, his basketball coach was a former Marine. Of his graduating class of 29, six decided to go into the U.S. Marine Corps. “It was the hardest of them all,” O’Dell said as to why they chose the Marines.

“There were so many things we did,” O’Dell continued. “We became so close-knit. We were so far from home, and you’re off by yourself, and that creates a real comradeship.”

O’Dell recalled an elderly Korean man who would come to their camp each week to cut the Marines’ hair. “We had to have a weekly haircut. And we had to pay for it ourselves,” he said. “One week, he said he would be there the next week. He had to go into Seoul for the national election.” There was only one candidate to vote for and the man would have to get to Seoul, 30 miles away, by foot. “With only one person to vote for, we asked him why he was bothering to go,” O’Dell said. The answer was, he had to go vote – or else it could mean death.

No one received any promotions while in Korea, O’Dell said. Upon returning, the officers realized that no one had been promoted. “I came back and got married and then returned to camp in California,” O’Dell stated. Upon his return, he was called in before the battalion officers. “I was a Private First Class at the time. And this group of officers around a table asked if I had gotten married. I told them I had and they asked to see her photo,” O’Dell said. He produced a photo of his wife, Janell, and they informed him he was being promoted to Corporal. Six months later, he was promoted to Sergeant.

After Service:

The list of committees and organizations that O’Dell has served on since returning to Middlebury is a lengthy one. He is best known for serving on the Middlebury Town Council since 1996, and has been council president for 15 years.

He served on the Middlebury American Legion Post 210 Executive Committee. Currently, he is part of the Post 210 Color Guard.

He has been a Mason for 60 years, and was a Past Master of the Masonic Lodge in Bristol.

He served on the Middlebury Library Board prior to joining the town council. He was an Elkhart County Councilman and served on the Elkhart County United Way Board.

Return to Korea:

In 2003, O’Dell was one of 400 servicemen who were invited back to Korea for the 50th anniversary of the cease fire agreement. He took another veteran, Ernie Miller, with him. The trip was organized by the merchants of South Korea as a way to thank the U.S. servicepersonnel for what they did.

“We drove through the little village I had been stationed at. It was just a few huts back then,” O’Dell said. “Now, it’s larger than South Bend.” Seoul has become one of the largest cities in the world. One evening, O’Dell and Miller went into Seoul to look around. “We had college students coming up to us to talk to us and to thank us for what we did,” O’Dell said.