Proudly he served: Alumnus honored with Congressional Gold Medal
Agriculture classes that would prepare him for farming are what drew Ivan Maras ’52 to the University seven decades ago. He arrived with a plan to return to his family’s farm near the rural Illinois community of Bulpitt. That goal changed when he was drafted during the Korean War.
Grateful for the draft board’s decision to let him finish his undergraduate studies, Maras postponed his service in the Army. His hope was that the college degree would keep him stateside at a desk job. That wish didn’t come true either for Maras, who was shipped overseas to Korea.
He had no idea of what was ahead. He certainly had no expectations of receiving an honor for his valiant service during the war—the Congressional Gold Medal. He and other regiment members received last year this highest national award for distinguished achievements and contributions.
Maras was a member of the 65th Infantry Regiment that was created by Congress in 1898 as an all-Puerto Rican segregated unit. Puerto Rico, a commonwealth of the United States, uses Spanish as its common language.
Beyond the challenges of finding himself in a war, Maras consequently had the additional difficulty of communicating. He did not speak any Spanish when he was assigned to the unit that was faltering because Puerto Rican soldiers were not prepared for the challenges.
One of the most difficult was the regiment’s key objective to keep Chinese and North Korean forces above the 38th Parallel during the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. Even after that successful assignment, Maras remained on the front lines, working in Headquarters Company until the war ended in July 1953.
Maras became more than a solid soldier during his time in the Army. He also gained experience as a teacher. The military set up tent schools in Korea. Math, reading and writing were subjects Maras taught. The experience prepared him to lead classes back in the U.S. after serving for 16 months. He taught math, physics and chemistry in Illinois schools for nearly 50 years until his retirement in 1988.