Purple Heart Profile: Patriot Arnold W. Gruning, Jr.

Patriot Arnold W. Gruning Jr., a veteran of the Korean War, is a man of enormous personal courage and political savvy. Gruning is very aware of the historical importance of the Korean War and is dedicated to seeing that the war and those who participated in it are not forgotten. He also has an intense desire to help young people through his knowledge of plumbing. In 2004, he was named VFW commander of the year.

Patriot Gruning was born in Camden, NJ on July 10, 1932, where he attended grade school until he joined the Army in January 1951. After his induction at Fort Dix, NJ, he was assigned to the 504th Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division. Enroute to his assignment he attended airborne school. His class was the last to receive Glider Training at Fort Benning, GA. After jump school he attended Parachute Rigging School at Fort Lee, VA.

In July 1952, just a few days before deploying to the Korean Conflict, PFC. Gruning was granted leave to go home. While at home he met and Mary, now his wife of 52 years. PFC Gruning forgot about being in the Army and spent an extra 25 days at home to be with Mary. A man of staunch belief in his commitments to serve, he reported back to duty and was deployed to Camp Drake, Japan and was assigned to L Company, 17th Regiment, 7th Infantry Division.

His unit was shipped from Japan across the Yellow Sea and anchored off Incheon Beach. His unit then conducted a beach landing, fortunately without any enemy resistance. After being supplied with additional equipment, his unit moved into positions just North of Seoul, Korean. The position they occupied was called the Alligator Jaws. It was here that L Company saw its first action. It was also at that outpost that they first encountered Chinese forces. This was the long and cold Winter of 1952, one of the coldest in Korean history. In March 1953, L Company was deployed to outpost Sugar Loaf Hill where they again engaged many Chinese patrols.

In April 1953, L Company assaulted the infamous Pork Chop Hill. By then a corporal, Gruning was the Company Commander’s radio telephone operator. The heroics of the back and forth struggle which occurred on that hill were aptly told in the movie “Pork Chop Hill.” Pork Chop Hill is a tale of the politics of war. A truce was being negotiated and the United Nation would concede the hill and then when the negotiations broke down American soldiers would have to attack the hill again. The hill became infamous for the manner in which the battles were fought and the number of American lives lost. It was at Pork Chop Hill that Cpl. Gruning earned his Purple Heart. He was wounded in the neck by shrapnel from one of the many Chinese artillery units which continuously shelled the hill.

After recuperating from his wounds in Japan, Cpl. Gruning was again sent to Korea where he was assigned to the 187th Regimental Combat Team (Airborne) and deployed to the Kummwha Valley. He remained with the 187th until the Korean Cease fire on July 27, 1953. Cpl. Gruning was honorably discharged on February 21,1954.

While in service, in addition to the Purple Heart, Patriot Arnold was awarded the National Defense Service Medal; the United Nations Service Medal; the Korean Service Medal with two bronze stars; the Combat Infantry Badge and the Parachutist Badge with glider insignia.

Immediately after being discharged from the U.S. Army, Patriot Gruning married the former Mary Sutton. Patriot Gruning and his wife Mary now have three adult daughters: Karen McCurley, Denise Harrell, and MaryAnn Foy. In 1957, he started his long career as a plumber and joined the AFL-CIO UA of Plumbers and Pipe Fitters. He received his Master Plumbers License after attending Camden County Vocational School. Patriot Gruning has worked on the USS Kitty Hawk, and in nuclear power plants, fossil fuel plants, and hospitals, along with water treatment plants throughout the country.

Patriot Gruning retired as an active plumber in 1994, and then started volunteering. He has been a member of the VFW since 1957 and in July 1999, he became Commander of Post 3308 in Tallahassee, FL. While serving as VFW Commander, Gruning initiated efforts that led to the building of the Korean War Memorial at the Florida State Capitol. The memorial was dedicated by Governor Jeb Bush on December 11, 1999. From July 2003 to July 2005, Gruning was commander of VFW, District 2, Department of Florida. He was the winner of the 2004 Kansas City award for best commander. He was very involved in lobbying the Florida Legislatures to pass Senate Resolution 1096 which allows WWII and Korean veterans who joined the service prior to graduation to immediately receive a GED high school diploma free of charge. At 74, Patriot Gruning is still teaching plumbing at Tallahassee Community College.