A medic told Vernon Courtney that Elmer Davis had after a mortar round exploded.
COLUMBUS (AP) -- When a central Ohio man began his search for a Korean War buddy, he expected to find his friend's name on a headstone.
Vernon "Pete" Courtney, 74, had last seen Elmer Davis lying on a stretcher in Korea, his face covered in blood after a mortar round exploded and sent shrapnel flying. Courtney was trying to lug Davis to help when a medic told him his friend had died.
The medic was wrong.
Fifty-five years later, Courtney discovered his friend was living in Grove City, about 20 miles away from Courtney's home in Amanda. The men reunited Sept. 30 at a Circleville restaurant, decades after both thought the other was dead.
"Losing him was like losing your right arm," said Davis, 75. "I couldn't believe it when he called. I was very happy."
Courtney and Davis first met as young men at Fort Hayes in Columbus in December 1950, Courtney said. They trained at Fort Knox, Ky., and were sent off to Korea together.
On Sept. 19, 1951, Davis was badly wounded during combat on Bloody Ridge, Courtney said.
"I tried to save him and the medic said he was gone," said Courtney, who was wounded himself a week later by a grenade. "We got to talking since we met each other, and he said he just passed out from shock. That's what he figures because he doesn't remember what happened to him."
Davis recovered, was assigned to a different unit and went back to the front line. Someone told him Courtney had been killed in action. Later, both fought at the battle for Heartbreak Ridge but never ran into each other.
Launching a search
Courtney spent 15 more years in the military, worked in the lumber and hardware business in Tacoma, Wash., and came back to Ohio to retire in 1992, he said. That's when he had time to think about Davis and had feelings of guilt, wondering why he had survived when his friend died.
In November he started looking for Davis' grave, seeking it out in military cemeteries and through veterans agencies and the office of U.S. Rep. Dave Hobson but finding no sign of his friend.
The Veterans Administration told him there was at least one living veteran in Ohio by the name of Elmer Davis, but the agency couldn't release details due to privacy laws, Courtney said.
So Courtney and his wife, Geneva, went to the library and found there were several dozen people named Elmer Davis in Ohio. The first listing that came up was in Grove City, and, when Courtney called the number, he found his friend.
Davis answered and Courtney asked him if he had served in Korea. Courtney then read Davis' service number to him over the line, and soon the men picked up where they had left off. They've met twice for dinner, Courtney said.
"I suffered for 55 years trying to put this thing at peace in my mind," he said. "I thought it was my fault. I tried to save him and it didn't work out. But it did work out."