Korean War veteran receives honors

Rudolph Grahek: 'I couldn't believe it — I was just in awe.' 

REED CITY — Drafted into the U.S. Army after graduating high school in 1952, Rudolph Grahek never thought he'd be receiving medals for his active duty 67 years later.

"I just couldn't believe it," Grahek said. "When they said they were going to set this up, I thought one or two guys would be here and maybe just give me my medals, but my goodness, I come into the room and it's half full — I couldn't believe it — I was just in awe."

Born and raised in Cadillac, Grahek was drafted and sent to Camp Atterbury in Illinois after graduation. Then, he was sent to sent to Busan, Korea, as a .30-caliber machine gunner.

Grahek was in the Battle of Pork Chop Hill, which, according to a news release, was one of the worst battles the Army faced.

Before being discharged in 1954, Grahek also learned to fly.

U.S. Rep. John Moolenaar, State Sen. Curt VanderWall and State Rep. Michele Hoitenga awarded Grahek, now 87, with several medals Monday at 7-Slot Grill, in Reed City.

"It's truly an honor to recognize the service of a hero like Rudy," Moolenaar said. "He served our country and now is able to receive the commendations he earned. It's my honor. It's wonderful to be with his family and friends and the community to celebrate the special occasion."

Grahek received the National Defense Service Medal, Korean Service Medial with one Bronze Service Star, the Combat Infantryman Badge and the United Nations Service Medal.

As well as numerous veterans, area residents and representatives, a few members of Grahek's family were there to celebrate during the ceremony.

Mary Zakrajsek, Grahek's younger sister, said she was 4 years old when her brother was drafted, and doesn't remember much about his leaving.

"I was only 4 when he went to Korea and 6 when he came back," Zakrajsek said. "I just remember how happy my mom was when he came home."

Though she doesn't remember a lot about her brother leaving, Zakrajsek remembers her brother's arrival home in 1954, like it were yesterday.

"I remember my mom was having a church group over at the house and they were just leaving, it was 9:30 p.m. or so," Zakrajsek said. "One of the ladies was walking down the sidewalk and my brother was coming up, and she let out a scream. My mom looked, and there was my brother."

Even at 6 years old, Zakrajsek said she remembers how scared her mother was until Grahek came home. Now, to see Grahek honored for his service, Zakrajsek said, it's "a wonderful feeling.

"I'm so proud of him," she said.

Reed City Mayor Trevor Giles also voiced his gratitude that his neighbor was able to receive medals for all his hard work and sacrifice.

"Rudy's been a staple in this community," Giles said. "He's been a pillar in this community for quite some time, and he really deserves this. It's about time he's recognized for his service."

As well as serving his country, Grahek returned to the U.S. and attended Ferris Institute, where he obtained a business marketing degree and became a member of Tau Kappa Alpha fraternity and Sigma Phi Epsilon, becoming a counselor for them.

After graduation, Grahek continued his need to help by providing laughter to those around him as he pursued his passion for all things circus and fairs.

Grahek spent the latter half of his life as a clown and advising traveling carnivals for the past several years.

With a life of battles, teachings and laughter, Big Rapids American Legion Post No. 98 commander Bill Yontz said he is honored to have been given the opportunity to get Grahek the medals he's earned.

"It's my duty to do this for everyone," Yontz said. "Just because we're no longer active duty, we still serve our community, and so it's my honor to do this for every veteran who needs something, wants something or deserves something."