PERU — During a harrowing firefight atop a mountain in North Korea 62 years ago, two Maine buddies saw each other for the last time.

Or so they thought.

Glen Tompkins of Peru was a radio operator with the Army’s 7th Infantry Division and Donn Chadbourne of Wells was an Army medic with the 2nd Infantry Division.

Surrounded by the enemy, Tompkins was shot and gravely wounded. Chadbourne rescued him and pulled him across the Yellow River on the China-North Korea border.

Chadbourne, who didn’t realize he’d saved his buddy’s life, thought Tompkins had died, because he was carried off on a gurney by the Graves Registration Service.

On Saturday, Chadbourne, 84, and Tompkins, 82, reunited at the Peru man’s wood-crafts showroom. Tompkins said he thought Chadbourne and his wife, Darlene, were customers until Donn Chadbourne asked him if he’d ever driven a Model A from Olympia, Wash., to Maine. He had, of course.

The men then hugged and began to reminisce as if they hadn’t missed a beat, sitting beside each other in black rocking chairs.

“It was amazing,” said Liz Hebert of Chesterville, Tompkins’ granddaughter.

Hebert and Chadbourne’s wife, Darlene, set up the reunion and managed to keep both men unaware.

On Veterans Day, WCSH 6 News aired a story about Tompkins and his Korean War service, for which he received a Purple Heart.

Darlene Chadbourne commented Nov. 12 on the WCSH 6 website, saying her husband “was never so glad” to see a story.

“He was there with Glen when he got carried off that field,” she wrote. She said her husband never knew whether Tompkins survived and had wanted to contact him.

“I thought he was dead, so it almost floored me,” Donn Chadbourne said. “I didn’t know what the hell to think and (Tompkins) didn’t know what happened to me, either, after the war.”

Hebert saw the comment and eventually connected with Darlene Chadbourne via the Internet.

She said her husband never knew he and Tompkins lived about two hours from each other and even lived parallel lives, running car businesses, doing woodworking and making and selling furniture.

Korean War veterans never had a memorial wall created so they could look for their friends who were killed or missing in action, Darlene Chadbourne said of the Forgotten War.

She said her husband never said anything about the war or his service until the WCSH 6 story was aired.

“I kept trying to get him to talk about some of his war stories, just because it’s healthier, and he would not say a word,” she said. “This (war) affected him terrible. He said, ‘It’s too hard when you see your friends die.'”

He and Tompkins became fast friends in 1950 while serving in the Army. Tompkins wanted to be a heavy equipment operator, but the Army made him a corps engineer and sent him to radio school where he met a friend of Chadbourne’s who got them together.

Chadbourne enlisted in the Army medical corps in March 1948; Tompkins enlisted in September 1949. Both were in the Army’s 2nd Division until they were sent to Japan.

Tompkins entered Korea in the Inchon Invasion and his division fought its way into North Korea and almost to China on the Manchurian border. He said they were headed for China until President Harry Truman intervened and turned back Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s full-scale invasion.

Tompkins said he carried an SCR 300 radio that weighed 50 pounds and stayed right with the battalion commander, which made him a target of the North Koreans.

A week before Easter, which was on March 26 in 1951, 50 soldiers of the 7th and 2nd Infantry divisions found themselves surrounded atop a mountain while on patrol pushing toward China, Tompkins said.

“We were trying to find places to hide,” he said when a bullet entered his left side just above the belt line and exited through his left shoulder, beside his neck.

Chadbourne saw his buddy get shot and go down.

“I knew I had to get him across the Yellow River,” he said. “I thought he was dead.”

He pulled Tompkins across the river, treated him and stayed with him while another radio operator frantically tried to get air support. The operator managed to make contact, Chadbourne said. Jets soon came flying in and “strafed the hell out of the area and bombed it.” That created an escape route, but the soldiers only made it out with two trucks.

Tompkins said he was full of morphine and believed to be dead when put on a gurney and carried away by a Graves Registration team. He said that as they were carrying him back across the Yellow River, he jumped off the stretcher. Then he was carried to a helicopter and flown to a field hospital before being placed aboard a plane and taken to the Army hospital in Tokyo.

There, doctors told him he would only live a year and wanted to put him in a soldier’s home to convalesce, but Tompkins objected and returned to Peru, where he recovered.

“God, I’m so glad,” Tompkins told Donn Chadbourne of his happiness on seeing him again.

“It’s amazing after all these years,” said Tompkins’s girlfriend, Betty Robbins of Winthrop. “It brings tears to your eyes.”

Tompkins’s daughter, Lynda Hebert, suddenly went to Donn Chadbourne’s side, her eyes wet and red with tears.

“Thank you for saving my father’s life,” she said, bending down and hugging him tightly.

“This is awesome,” Lynda Hebert said afterward. “I’ve heard stories I’ve never heard before.”

“Me, too,” Darlene Chadbourne said.

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