By Caitlin Switzer
OLATHE-(July 14, 2014) Like so many boys growing up in Western Colorado, Eugene Howard “Gene” Putney spent his childhood outdoors, hunting and fishing, the third of Pearl and Floyd Putney’s ten children. Though born in Oklahoma, Gene was raised in Olathe, spending a short time in Lake City before enlisting in the U.S. Army with his friend Lester Stroup in 1949.
After a brief visit home following boot camp, Gene was deployed to Korea, where he was captured while fighting in South Korea and taken prisoner in 1951. His family heard nothing from him until the official confirmation of his death in 1955. Putney was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cross, the Combat Infantryman Badge, the Prisoner of War Medal, the South Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
To this day, however, Gene’s remains have never been found–though his family has traveled to Korea and investigated his death through the Army’s DNA project. Among those for whom his loss is still fresh are his sister Norma–his childhood “buddy”–and his friend, Lester Stroup.
Next Friday, July 18, Gene’s friends and family will come together at long last to honor him at 3 p.m. at the Olathe Assembly of God Church, to bring closure to those who have been watching, waiting and hoping all these years. Following the ceremony, the gathering will move to the Olathe Cemetery. The entire community is invited and welcomed to attend.
“I could not have asked for a better friend,” said Stroup, who now suffers from esophageal cancer. “He was honest and true; I really can’t say enough about him.”
For Putney’s niece, Cyndi Duran, honoring her uncle is a way to help her family heal.
“I didn’t realize what a raw wound (his loss) has been to this day,” Duran said. “My aunt is 83, and she will say, ‘There’s still time–maybe today is when he will walk through the door.’
“Because for 67 years, she has been watching and waiting for her buddy to come back, always with a twinge of hope that maybe he just hasn’t found his way home.
“There has never been any closure,” Duran said. “I want to make things right, to honor him as he should have been honored in 1951. Anyone who has memories of Gene should please come and share them. He has been gone so long, that many of those who knew and served with him are gone or in poor health. My Aunt Norma was his “buddy” as a child, and to this day she cries and cries.
“I want to honor my uncle, and help my family reach closure,” she said
Even a headstone has been difficult to obtain for Gene Putney–after repeated mistakes by the Military, the family was grateful for the help of Welcome Home Montrose Executive Director Emily Smith, who stepped in and arranged for a proper headstone.
“The Military kept losing our request,” Duran said. “Now thanks to Emily, his heart has a place to come home.”
For more information, contact the Warrior Resource Center at 970-765-2210.