By CARL GREEN
Edwardsville, IL – Bill Traylor didn’t know much about the retiree who liked to stop in to visit his office at Laborers Local 397.
But when he started listening, he learned some interesting things about Ray Durham, now 93 years old. For one thing, he’s a 76-year member of the Laborers. For another, he’s a veteran of both World War II and the Korean Conflict, where he suffered some lifelong injuries to his feet.
“He’d come around to the hall. I just figured he wanted some company, but I noticed he couldn’t walk very well,” Traylor, Local 397’s business manager, told the Labor Tribune. It turned out Durham had served in the Merchant Marines at the end of World War II and then joined the U.S. Army in time to serve in Korea.
“Ray would come into the local every other day to sit in my office and talk. I finally asked, ‘Do you want to go to work, Ray, or what are you doing?’ Traylor told a meeting of Southwestern Illinois Laborers District Council leaders and retirees on June 13 at the 397 Union Hall.
“He said, ‘No, I just came to visit.’ He wanted to be around a Labor local,” Traylor added. “We would hold conversations about every other day, and I got to talking to Ray about the problems he had with his feet.”
That’s how Traylor learned Durham had never received medical help through the VA. His documents proving he had been in the war had been destroyed in a fire.
ON THE CASE
So the union went to work, searching various offices around Illinois and eventually going to the Madison County Courthouse to find a copy of Durham’s DD 214 certificate, showing he had been honorably discharged from the Army. Indeed, he had also been presented with the Bronze Star and Silver Star for heroism and valor in combat.
It took about nine months, but the union was able to help Durham get medical treatment benefits from the VA. He also got some back pay.
“He would never talk about it, but he’s the real deal, and there are not many of them alive anymore,” Traylor said. “He hadn’t had enough during World War II. He went back to Korea.”
Durham was honored at the Laborers’ meeting with a 75-year plaque. In attendance was his daughter, Debby Schwarz of Olathe, Kansas, whom he now lives with.
“It’s a small memento of our appreciation for your dedication to the union,” Traylor said in presenting the plaque. “You want to talk hero? This is the guy right here.”