A humble hero: Call to duty becomes lifelong service

Faith Lifer
Staff Writer

After receiving an unexpected call to active duty in the January of 1951, Starkville native Dero Saunders Ramsey took his call to duty and turned it into a life of service for his country. Ramsey was called to serve in the United States Army Reserve as Second Lieutenant in 1951 and almost 30 years later he retired as a decorated Colonel in 1980.

“I think everybody should do some kind of service,” Ramsey said. “I had a commission and when they asked me to go, I wanted to go.”

“I know some people who had a commission and didn’t go. They managed to get out of it,” Ramsey added. “But I felt obligated to go.”

Throughout his service, Ramsey earned a Bronze Star Medal, a Purple Heart and a Commendation Medal; he later received the Legion of Merit when he retired. Not all heroes start prepared, though. Although Ramsey served in the Mississippi State University Army ROTC from 1946 to 1950, Ramsey said he never imagined going into combat and he wasn’t ready for the Army.

“I knew nothing at all about the army,” Ramsey said as he laughed. “We took ROTC because we could get $26 a month, and that was a lot of money.”

When Ramsey arrived in Fort Jackson in Columbia, South Carolina on Jan. 3, 1951, Ramsey said he didn’t have a uniform either.

“They didn’t give us a uniform when we got out of ROTC so I went like I was,” Ramsey said. “The guy (at Fort Jackson) was kinda put out with me because I was in civilian clothes.”

Ramsey lived with the Eighth Division in Fort Jackson and served as a training officer throughout the spring.

“It was a training division where we trained people,” Ramsey said. “We went through, well I guess you’d call it a boot camp. They’d learn to shoot and they’d learn everything they needed to know. Then they’d ship out and we’d get a new batch.”

After his time in Fort Jackson, Ramsey took a short vacation with his wife, Adelaide Ramsey, in the summer of 1951 before he left to serve in the Korean War.

“We went to Seattle, Washington,” Adelaide Ramsey said. “We had a nice trip along the way and he left Seattle by train.”

Dero and Adelaide Ramsey had married on Oct. 1, 1950.

After their vacation, Dero Ramsey took a train from Seattle to Vancouver, Canada, and from there, he flew to Japan. He arrived in Korea in September 1951 and he served as a platoon leader in Kumsong, Korea, with 30 other men. Not long after Dero Ramsey arrived in Kumsong, he was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for bravery after he risked his life to save one of his men. During an October attack, Dero Ramsey said he took off his pack and crawled over to help one of his men.

“When I was crawling, I had a pack on my back so I rolled over and took the pack off and crawled on and found out he was alright,” Dero Ramsey said. “I thought I was helping a guy that was wounded and it turned out he was okay.”

Although Dero Ramsey put his life on the line in order to help a fellow soldier, his bravery probably saved his own life.

“I came back and picked up my pack and it was shot up by then,” Dero Ramsey said. “Somebody had put some bullets in it. My sleeping bag had a hole in it and feathers kept coming out...I’m glad I wasn’t there.”

Adelaide Ramsey said she remembers getting a letter about the Bronze Star.

“I remember getting a long letter,” Adelaide Ramsey said. “It was about his bravery and how he had risked his own life to save others.”

Yet the Bronze Star was only the first of Dero Ramsey’s awards. Less than a month later, he would be seriously injured after a night raid by Chinese troops on Nov. 8, 1951.

“We had raided them about two or three nights before so it was kind of a retaliation,” Dero Ramsey said. “I saw the hand grenade come over and there wasn’t any way to get away from it, so I turned and got hit in the front and the back.”

“I lost three Koreans, but no Americans,” Dero Ramsey said of the attack.

The next morning, Dero Ramsey said a young Korean helped him down the hill to the nearest road where he caught a ride on a jeep. From there, he went to a Mobile Army Surgical hospital (MASH) unit.

“Which is not quite like what you see on TV,” Dero Ramsey said. “The stretcher was on the ground and they gave me an IV when I got to the MASH unit and the next morning when I left, there was frost on the tent so that IV was pretty cold. I was about to freeze. I had nothing but a blanket over me. It was really cold.”

Adelaide Ramsey still remembers receiving the telegram about Dero Ramsey’s injury.

“The telegram came and all that was on it was that he had been wounded,” Adelaide Ramsey said. “It might have said ‘seriously wounded.’ I’m not sure what the telegram had on it. And (we) didn’t know anything.”

“But the sweet thing was that I got a letter from (Dero) the next day that he was wounded,” Adelaide Ramsey added. “he wrote me a letter on his back and it got here right after the telegram did. he was saying we would get a telegram, which had already come and that he wanted me to know he was wounded but that he would be alright and not to worry and that he loved me.”

Dero Ramsey said he wanted to send the letter so she wouldn’t worry.

“I was trying to head off the telegram. I knew they’d be worried, you know, and I didn’t know if I’d have the chance to write while I was being transferred and operated on and all that stuff,” Dero Ramsey said. “So I blasted off a quick note.”

At the MASH unit, the medical staff decided Dero Ramsey needed more serious care and flew him to an American hospital in Japan.

“They decided I needed surgery and I don’t guess they did that kind of surgery—contrary to what you see on the TV,” Dero Ramsey laughed. “Anyway, the next morning, they took me by ambulance to an airfield and flew me to a hospital in Japan. It was in an old factory that made Zero airplanes, Japanese airplanes. It had been converted into a hospital.”

Dero Ramsey was in the hospital for a month for a month after his surgery that removed shrapnel from his arm and his back. To this day, he still has shrapnel in his back from the accident.

Dero Ramsey was awarded a purple heart in the hospital. He described receiving his Bronze Star and Purple Heart awards as “just another day.”

After his recovery, he was called back to duty in Seoul, Korea.

“I did not go back to the frontline. They called me and wanted to know if I wanted to work in the army headquarters,” Dero Ramsey said. “I joined the G2 headquarters at the eighth army. So I went from the bottom to the top.”

He served as a duty officer in the Joint Operations Center as a First Lieutenant for three months, then served as a liaison officer in Kimpo, Korea. He left Korea in September 1952.

“We came back to Sasebo, Japan and waited for a ship and caught the USS Polk," Dero Ramsey said. “We came into San Francisco under the Golden Gate Bridge. So that was a good sight.”

He was glad to be home when he returned to Starkville.

“He kept putting his head out the window when he was driving from Jacksonville,” Adelaide Ramsey said. “And I said ‘Dero, what are you doing?’ he said, ‘It smells so good.’ That tickled me so.”

“And I’m so thankful for him,” Adelaide Ramsey added. “And hearing all this has made me really appreciate Thanksgiving too. I have so much to be thankful for. And you know, you forget to thank god for what he’s already done sometimes.”

Adelaide Ramsey said Dero Ramsey sent her a letter every day he was away and his letters meant everything to her.

“I loved him so much. I missed him,” Adelaide Ramsey said. “I’d say, I don’t care what he does if he’ll just come back. I don’t care whether he works or not. I wanted him to come back safely.”

Dero Ramsey also sent home “pretty things” from Japan, including tablecloths, figurines, jade, vases and kimonos.

After the Korean War, Dero Ramsey received a master’s degree in dairy science from MSU in 1953 and would later receive a Ph.D. in dairy science from the University of Wisconsin Madison in 1957. Dero Ramsey was a professor at MSU for 30 years, where he taught dairy science. When he retired from MSU, he was honored as Professor Emeritus.

Dero Ramsey stayed in the Army Reserve after the Korean War, and he spent much of his summers in active duty declassifying documents in the United States Pentagon. Toward the end of his military career, he was the commander of the Second Maneuver Training Command that’s now part of the 87th Division.

“I had about 200 people in Jackson, Mississippi and about 100 in Atlanta, Georgia and 30 in Puerto Rico,” Dero Ramsey said. “In that command unit, we trained the Army Reserve, National Guard and active Army.”

He retired from the Army Reserve in 1980, when he received his Legion of Merit.

Dero Ramsey said he believes serving for your country is important.

“I think we all owe something to our country. We live in a free country and we ought to keep it free and that and that’s why I wanted to do it,” Dero Ramsey said.

He also thinks honoring veterans is important.

“I think all veterans gave up something by serving,” Dero Ramsey said.

He said he admires the soldiers who still serve today and he believes America is the greatest country to serve, especially due to America’s freedom of religion. Dero Ramsey’s son, Dero Saunders Ramsey, Jr. said he thinks serving offers a perspective others can’t grasp.

“The reality is, anybody who has served their country has an understanding that most of us will never have and it’s a beautiful thing,” Ramsey Jr. said. “It’s a devotion and a love that you just can’t have any other way.”