By Robert Lucke
First of all, Ferris Turner is no angel. In fact, in his own words, he is no role model for anyone. Period.
And yet he is a Korean War veteran and a Navy hero.
Most of what happened to the 70-year-old veteran is probably just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Take his war. Korea is about as unsung as Vietnam. Its veterans can't even say they have been to war. It was called a police action and, in Turner's words, was unnecessary if MacArthur had had his way.
"You can say we were fighting Koreans if you want, but we were fighting Chinese," Turner said. "If they had let MacArthur go to Beijing, we wouldn't have had the trouble we are into now."
But that is getting ahead of the story.
Turner was born south of Cleveland in the Bear Paw Mountains. He attended school at Cleveland and graduated in 1947 from Chinook High School.
In 1949 he enlisted in the U.S. Navy.
"I was in the European theater and Asia first, but I wouldn't go back on a tanker so, instead, I had heard about Amphibious craft and what were then called frogmen, and I thought I wanted to try something like that," Turner said.
So off to San Diego and Guam Turner went for training. Before he knew it, he was in Korea in the middle of the "police action."
"My job was to deploy troops and supplies from ships in the harbors to the shore and then to take casualties back to the hospital ships," Turner remembered. "And later I commanded a four-man boat called an LCM. I took Navy frogmen where they had to go. They were putting demolitions in ship channels and all of a sudden one day we were blown up."
It was a MIG. In fact, it was the first jet that Turner had ever seen. He heard it coming and then it blew them out of the water. Turner lost a hand and, some say, won a Purple Heart. Turner does talk about it.
"I was still alive and on a hospital ship for a month and then in Japan for six weeks. Then they sent me to San Diego for a month and then discharged me," Turner recalled.
The Navy might have been ready to discharge Turner, but Turner was not ready to be discharged.
"Back in Montana, I had a real tough time for a lot of years," Turner said with a laugh. "My trouble was right between my ears. I had run-ins with everyone. In fact, I think that I thought I could whip the whole damn state. One time I was in jail after a fight and they were bringing me more whiskey between the bars through the jail windows."
Finally, after 10 years of constant trouble with the law, Turner got control of his life and things were better. He worked as a trucker for many years and in construction.
And he remembers an episode in 1973 like it was just yesterday.
"I was hauling mail out of Billings and trying to teach some kids basic weight lifting," Turner said. "It was power lifting and in the Montana 198-pound class, I won the state record. I lifted 1,410 pounds in three lifts. And I was the only man in Montana or in the whole United States who did that with only one hand. I finally got over my inferiority complex after that."
Even after that, life has not been a pleasant experience for Turner. Legal troubles and medical problems have plagued him. He has had cancer, been in a bad truck wreck, has had a heart attack, and wears a pacemaker those, along with his war injuries.
His biggest problem these days is to figure out how to get transportation from Havre to Fort Harrison for his medical treatment.
Turner credits Bob Rice and the Havre VFW for really helping him. Them and his friends Jack Yates and May Thackeray have helped him through a sea of difficult times.
So, on this Memorial Day, when we honor our loved ones and veterans of all the wars, let us not forget folks like Ferris Turner who honored his country in a war that is not even called a war and then returned home to face a sad life.
But he is not sad at all.
"I just thank the Lord that I am able to get up and live another day," Turner said with a smile on his face.