Vet may finally get POW plate

By The Associated Press

PORT ORCHARD — Dean Gehring spent two days as a prisoner of Chinese forces in the Korean War and narrowly survived a harrowing escape, but 57 years later he can't get a state prisoner-of-war license plate.

His family, especially granddaughter Chandra White, has been trying to get him the POW plate for nearly a decade but kept running afoul of a provision requiring that a person have been in enemy hands at least 29 days.

That provision will likely be eliminated by the Legislature next year, said John Lee, director of the state Department of Veterans Affairs, at a surprise presentation Saturday during Gehring's 78th birthday party at Life Christian Center.

Gehring was presented with letters from U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Bremerton, Gov. Christine Gregoire and state Sen. Derek Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, honoring his service during the Korean War, and Lee and Kilmer said they would push the legislation needed to get him the POW plate.

"We owe a round of applause to Chandra for her diligence in bringing this to our attention," Lee said.

Gehring wept as he rose from his wheelchair to hug Lee and White, who organized the surprise, saying he was moved by the presentation, "especially that one of my granddaughters went to all that trouble."

Lee said the 29-day rule was logical when veterans who were eligible for POW license plates could also be exempt from Washington state's hefty motor-vehicle excise tax, but that levy was mostly reduced to $30 in 2000.

Gehring joined the Army in December 1947 and was assigned to the 2nd Infantry Division, the first called into battle, when the Korean War began in June 1950.

As a corporal on reconnaissance patrol in enemy territory in February, he was captured and taken at gunpoint to a village in North Korea where he refused to answer military questions.

Next he was driven north to another village and was placed in a shack with an armed guard outside. After sundown the first evening, he heard a whistle blow and watched through a tiny peephole as the guard arose, walked a short distance, returned with a bowl of rice and gave him a tiny portion.

The next night, when the guard went to get the rice, Gehring bolted into the woods and spent seven days in hiding before finding a house where villagers who were caring for refugees took him to a cave where some refugees and four other U.S. soldiers were hiding.

After two nights they were warned that North Korean forces had learned about the cave. By the time they encountered some Marines and reached an aid station three miles away, Gehring was on the verge of starvation and had to be carried. He spent 30 days recuperating at a hospital in Tokyo.