Bullets, bombings, bedlam, blackness. Roy Fort, a Morton man, experienced all of it when he was injured during the Korean War in October 1951. It was an injuring bad enough that it earned him a second Purple Heart after an incident just three days prior. His life after the Army was far from over, returning to Morton before wars end to a home of milk, marriage and motor vehicles.

Roy was born on July 5, 1929, on a Tazewell County farm to George and Abby Fort. The youngest of eight kids, Roy started driving trucks for his father’s farm-to-market and local delivery business at age 14. Cops and driving laws were much laxer then, allowing Roy and his twin brother, Ray, to help their dad transport milk for farmers and food and pretty much anything for anyone in the Tazewell and Woodford area. After graduating from Morton High School in 1947, Roy joined the company full-time.

During the early days of the Korean War in 1950, Roy and Ray were drafted. Ray was married and working for George at the time. Roy didn’t want to leave his father with no truck drivers. George didn’t want that either. George was friends with then Illinois Sen. Everett Dirksen, and he explained the situation to his friend. A deal was reached. Roy would go into the Army first, leaving Ray to help George with the business. After Roy’s service was complete, he would return home and Ray would join. Previously, Roy’s older brother, Ralph, was the only one of his siblings who had previously served, Ralph having been a World War II fighter pilot who protected planes bombing Berlin.

Starting bootcamp January 1951, Roy left for the war via Seattle. A 14-day boat trip took him to Japan. Roy served his first nine months in Korea without much to differentiate him from his fellow troops.

Then, in October 1951, somewhere north of Seoul, Roy and his squad were on top of a hill with trenches all the way around the top of it. The Chinese were on the other side. Roy’s squad leader was shot, and being the assistant squad leader, that put Roy in charge. All of a sudden one side — Roy never knew if it was his people or the enemy — started shooting white phosphorus to mark the hill top.

“So, I told the guys, I says, ‘There’s going to be some bombs coming in here pretty quick. Get the hell out.’ We all ran out the wounded and took them over to the top of the hill there and started digging foxholes,” Roy said. “I was digging mine and...(my Browning Automatic Rifle) was within reach of my hand...and I was digging and digging this damn hole, and the next thing I knew, when I woke up, I was 30 feet down the hill (and) stung all over, (like) needles sticking in my whole body. It just stung, and I lay there and I looked to the head of my arm to the head of my legs. I had a little blood on my leg there. I lay there until I got my senses back, and I crawl back up to the hill where I was digging that hole. And in the bottom of the hole was the strap of my rifle. That was it. Never found my gun or anything.”

It was a mortar round that hit Roy. He came away with only a scratched leg.

Just three days later, he was in a different trench, and the enemy had been bombing Roy and his squad all day.

“My buddy and I, we were together there,” Roy said, “and we hear the mortar round, you know, you could hear them: Thump, thump, thump. So, we knew how many were coming, and we’d say, ‘Well, we’ll go to the right.’ Next time we heard them, ‘We’ll go to the left.’ The third time, it was about 6:30 that night...it was still light...and we heard three of them coming. He went left. I went right. (Then) I went left and he went right, and it must’ve landed right where we’re sitting in that trench. It got us both.”

When Roy woke up, he couldn’t walk. With a piece of shrapnel in his right abdomen, Roy crawled up to the top of a nearby hill, his “buddies” and some Koreans assigned to the American troops were on the other side. Roy reached the top of the hill, and another bomb went off. The Koreans started taking off, but one of Roy’s fellow troops persuaded them, with the help of the cocking of his rifle, to stop and carry Roy down the hill to safety.

To get the shrapnel out, doctors had to perform exploratory surgery from Roy’s belly button all the way to his groin. The procedure resulted in urination problems for decades.

“Over the years, I had different things done,” Roy said. “I’m fortunate I lived.”

Roy recovered and went back on duty in December. He didn’t return to combat. Instead, he did a number of things in Japan until he earned enough credits to return to the United States during the summer of 1952. Roy was a skilled bowler, and a lieutenant wanted to keep him on so that he could play on his bowling team. That didn’t happen, so Roy was sent home with two Purple Hearts in the form of one medal that had an additional oak leaf cluster to denote the two honors. Roy doesn’t remember how he got the Purple Hearts, but there definitely wasn’t a ceremony.

While returning home, Roy crossed the International Date Line just after his 23rd birthday, meaning he turned 23 twice over the course of the journey. Returning through San Francisco and staying in Michigan for a while, he eventually earned the additional credits needed to complete his service as a corporal and return home to Morton in October 1952.

“I had a ball,” Roy said. “Other than (being wounded), I enjoyed every bit of my service time. You get to see things most people never saw.”

Ray ended up never having to serve. By the time Roy came home, Ray was a father and the Army wasn’t taking men with children at the time.

Roy continued on with his father’s business, taking it over in the mid-50s. Roy married Frances Madacey on March 18, 1956. While he was working and living a married life, Roy was involved with the Morton VFW, serving as its commander for two to three years starting in 1956. He dialed down his involvement in VFW once he started having kids: a girl, Marti, in June 1957, a boy, Phil, in June 1959 and another boy, Allen, in September 1963.

Due to back problems, Roy sold the company to young entrepreneur Roger Kahler in 1965. The Kahlers have kept Fort Transfer in business to this day without even changing the name. When it came to Roy, he continued transporting milk until 1973. It was then that he went to join his brother Ralph’s downtown Pekin automotive business, Fort and Schock Chrysler-Plymouth, that Ralph ran with Lee Schock. Initially, Roy worked as a car salesmen  before quickly becoming the parts manager for 17 years.

“They were computerizing everything, and they were also bringing in Toyota at the time,” said Phil Fort, Roy’s first son. “Being parts manager, he was going to have to learn how to use a computer big time. Computers for these old-time guys, and (he) was in his 60s probably, to try and learn all this computer crap, it was too hard.”

Roy worked the cashier and the last full-service pump at the Amoco gas station run by Frank and Randy Green in Morton. After a while, the Greens got out of the gas business and focused on car repair. Roy stayed on during this transition, doing oil changes, answering phones and various other simple jobs. Roy retired for good in the late-90s. 

Since then, Roy’s kept active. At 89, he still bowls and plays golf, having only scored 300 for the first time when he was 70. Roy doesn’t drive these days, so he’s not as active in the VFW anymore, but among the veterans who were on the first Peoria Honor Flight in June 2013. A plan by Phil would bestow Roy with another honor.

“Since I’ve been retired now, I’ve been able to go to more Cubs games every year than I ever did before, and probably the last three, four years I’ve been going, every game they always honor a veteran,” Phil said. “They have the veterans stand out on the field, and they announce his name and it could be a woman, too, (doesn’t) matter. (They honor) all the branches, and they would announce them. It’s always in the fourth inning between when the visiting team gets done batting, that’s when they do it, before the Cubs bat in the fourth. For some reason this year, I thought, ‘You know, I’m going to check into that and see if...Dad could do that. It would be cool.’”

It was June when he had the idea. He made some calls and found out the honorings were run by the United Service Organizations of Illinois, the Cubs and the Boeing Company. At the time, he wasn’t able to get a hold of the woman he needed to talk to. So, he decided to call back later but forgot to until August. This time he reached her. He and his sister filled out the appropriate forms, but there was no guarantee Roy would be picked. With it being late-August by that point and the rest of the Cubs’ home games already being filled up with veterans being honored, the odds Roy would be chosen were low. Phil said he understood.

Phil didn’t hear back about it until Sept. 28, when he received a call between 9 and 10 in the morning. Roy had been selected.

“And I go, ‘Wow,’” Phil said. “And she goes, ‘There’s a catch, though. We don’t know what game he’s going to be doing. We know he’ll be doing the very first Cubs playoff game that’s played at Wrigley (Field). We just don’t know if it’s going to be Monday, which would be a division playoff game against The (Milwaukee) Brewers because they’ll be tied, or if it’ll be Tuesday because the Cubs would be hosting the wildcard game or (if it’ll be) Thursday if the Cubs when the division outright. And depending on the three games we played against the Cardinals on the 28th, 29th and 30th (of September).’ So, they end up being tied with The Brewers, and Sunday night she calls me (and said), ‘It’s going to be tomorrow.’”

The Cubs gave Phil four tickets for Roy and three guests. Roy’s wife passed away in 2009, and Ray, Roy’s only living sibling, lives in Florida now and couldn’t get to Chicago on such short notice. Roy ended up going with his three children.

Initially, the family tried to keep the honor a secret from Roy.

“Sunday night, I went out to (my dad’s) apartment, and I had my wife call me, after I’d been there for a half-hour, telling me I’d won free tickets on the internet somehow...I hung up with my wife (and told him), ‘Dad, I won free tickets to a Cub game tomorrow. It’s a playoff game. You’re going with me.’”

Roy said he didn’t want to go. He’d had trouble getting around the stadium at a game just two weeks prior. Phil was unable to convince his father to come, so he had to reveal everything, after which Roy agreed to go.

The next day, on Oct. 1, the time came and Roy walked out onto the field. Someone started reading off facts about Roy and his service. All the while, the crowd’s cheers were so loud that Roy’s children couldn’t hear the intercom properly. The actual honoring lasted less than a minute, but Roy enjoyed it. Phil, who can get weepy when talking about his dad’s service and his scrapes with death on the battlefield, may have liked it even more, saying he and his siblings were crying and that he probably should’ve done this for his dad already.

A man of few words, Roy simply said of the honor, “It was great.”