MONTROSE – Imagine sending a loved one off to war and then never seeing or hearing from him again. For one local family, that has been the reality for more than 67 years.
Eugene Howard “Gene” Putney left home as a young man to join the Army, with his friend, Lester Stroup.
Born in Oklahoma, Putney grew up in Olathe, and spent a short time with Stroup in Lake City before enlisting. The third of 10 children, he left broken hearts behind him when he was reported missing as a captured Prisoner of War while fighting in Korea in 1951. In 1955, Putney was declared dead, though his body has never been found, and attempts to locate him through the military’s DNA project have not been successful. For his service, 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.
On Friday, July 18, at 3 p.m., Putney’s friends and family will come together at long last to honor him 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.
“I want to make things right, to honor him as he should have been honored in 1951,” Putney’s niece Cyndi Duran said. “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.
Duran also expressed great thanks to Welcome Home Montrose Executive Director Emily Smith for helping the family obtain a headstone for Eugene.
“The military kept losing our request,” Duran said. “Now, thanks to Emily, his heart has a place to come home.”