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Cecil Conrad was a farm boy, tired of waking up at the crack of dawn to clean up after cows. He lied about his age, joined the Army and helped free Asia from the Axis.

But it was in the next war, battling Communists in Korea, that Conrad might truly have regretted his change of career.

In a too-shallow foxhole, somewhere north of Seoul, the 188th Airborne Division soldier held his gun close to his head, trying to shield himself from fast-flying ordnance that "whistled through the air like birds tweeting," he said.

Then the world exploded in his face.

"It was like being smacked with a baseball bat. It knocked me backwards," Conrad said.

Dirt had hit him, a chunk of sod flung up by a shell, Conrad thought, as he gradually accepted the fact that he was still alive.

Then he touched his helmet, and felt the hole that a shell had torn out of the steel.

"I knew a piece of sod couldn’t do that," he said.

By the laws of nature, that big bullet ought to have kept on going, making a fatal journey through his skull and brain. Instead, it struck the steel at such an angle that it cut through the metal and then arced away. He had a bruise and a headache, but he...

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