Veterans Voices: Korean War survivor turned Author

Veterans Voices

FREELAND, LUZERNE COUNTY (WBRE/WYOU) — A Luzerne County Korean War Veteran has written a book about his experience in battle and how a navy medic saved him from certain death.

The man you’re about to meet came as close to death on the battlefield as possible but he survived because of the bravery of a quick-thinking fellow soldier.

Now this Freeland resident tells his incredible story in a book that forever preserves the legacy of both men.

Freeland resident Joe Barna, 91, recalls the day he nearly died as if it were yesterday. It was 1952 and the marine was fighting along a hillside in Korea under heavy shelling from the enemy.

Casualties were everywhere. A shell exploded nearby and knocked Joe on his back. Suddenly a North Korean soldier rushed toward him, stabbing him in the arm with a bayonet. He was bleeding badly and nearly blacked out. Then a miracle a navy corpsman with medical training named John Kilmer saved his life.

“I’m getting tired, I’m getting weak. And I hear a voice saying ‘Joe, Joe! If I don’t stop that bleeding, you’re going to die, you’re going to bleed to death,” recounted by Koren war Veteran and author Joe Barna.

As described in Joe’s book, “God Made Angels and Navy Corpsmen”, the 21-year-old Kilmer carried Joe to a nearby bunker and went to work.

“One marine held a candle and he sewed my arm shut with needle and thread. No novocaine, no painkillers. I didn’t care, I couldn’t feel nothing. But I survived,” said Barna.

Just five weeks later, in another battle, Kilmer was hit by heavy shrapnel and died as he was helping two wounded Marines. He was just 2 days shy of his 22nd birthday.

When Joe came home a year later, the first thing he did when he got off the ship was called Kilmer’s family in Michigan. Kilmer’s mother answered the phone.

“I told her I loved ‘Jackie. He was the bravest man I ever met and we both cried on the phone, ya know,” said Barna.

Joe left the marines in 1953, got married, and had three children. But he never forgot his friend he called Jackie. After retirement, he’d written dozens of articles on his Korean war experiences for “The Progress” a newspaper in Freeland, and eventually family and friends suggested he try to merge them into a book. Turned out, a publisher felt it was a good idea too.

Joe says he has no idea where his writing ability came from. Up until recently the only writing he’d done was letters home from Korea. But he says his book speaks for the veterans who can’t. He wanted to let people know about the bravery of one navy corpsman who let him live on.

“I don’t do it for the glory. I don’t do it for the money. I do it because I’m me,” said Barna, “I got a job to do yet. I can.”

There’s a student activity center dedicated to John Kilmer in San Antonio, Texas. Joe recently lost his wife to Alzheimer’s and says his goal now is to help as many veterans as he can.

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