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Bill seeks equal combat pay for Korean War POWs

By Matthew M. Burke
Stars and Stripes

August 08. 2018 11:17PM




American troops in war zones have received combat pay since 1952. Yet for one group of warfighters — Korean War POW-MIAs — the supplemental compensation was capped.

Now, a bill introduced by U.S. Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney, D-N.Y., aims to pay back the men who endured starvation, disease, freezing temperatures and the summary executions of fellow countrymen.

Maloney introduced the Never Forgotten Korean War POW Act in May, starting the legislative process. It seeks to provide combat pay to all living Korean War POWs for each month spent in a captured or MIA status, adjusting for inflation. Their payments have been capped, by law, at three months, the only group of combat veterans with those restrictions.

The bill has been sent to the House Armed Services Committee but has not been set for a vote.

The issue was first brought to Maloney’s attention at a town hall meeting by a friend of Cornwall, N.Y., resident and former POW Ray Mellin, 89.

“We were in the prison camp two years already when they (decided) they weren’t going to pay us more than just the three months for combat pay, and in all that time, we were getting strafed, we were bombed, guys were dying every day and we just couldn’t figure out why,” Mellin told Stars and Stripes.

Mellin was born in Stamford, Conn. He was sent to Korea, a medic with the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.

His unit was positioned just north of Osan when the soldiers were besieged by North Korean troops.

Over the next three years, Mellin and his fellow POWs experienced forced marches and summary executions; men were left to freeze to death. They suffered from intestinal worms and were covered in lice.

More than half died in captivity.

On July 27, 1953, those who had survived were told they were going home.

Mellin said he found out about the cap on combat pay as soon as he got out of the military.

“My fervent wish is to have this injustice made right, not for the monetary reasons, but to honor the remaining few Korean War POWs,” Mellin said in a statement released by Maloney’s office.

Mellin and Maloney’s attempt to get full combat pay for Korean War POWs is not the first.

Fellow 24th Infantry Division soldier and POW Wilbert “Shorty” Estabrook, 87, worked with now-retired U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., to try to accomplish the same thing, Estabrook and Mellin say.

Maloney attempted to attach the bill to the 2019 National Defense Authorization Act being hashed out this summer but it was ruled to be out of order by the House Committee on Rules. Maloney has reached out to the Congressional Budget Office to score the bill, but it has not done so.


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