ENGLEWOOD, Colo. — Homework is something many students dread. But for one Colorado student, a 5th grade assignment sparked a years-long mission.
Noah Hicks was told to interview a veteran for Veteran's Day when he was in fifth grade. He initially saw it as just another homework assignment.
He decided to interview his neighbor and Korean War veteran, Maurice Serotta, who he called Maury.
“When it first started, I wasn't really sure what I was going to get out of it. Like, I had this little sheet of questions, and I was just like, "Okay, we'll go through all of these, and then we'll be done,"" said Hicks, who is now 17. “Having him answer these questions, it felt, like, really forced at first. It just didn't seem like either of us were comfortable.”
That's when Hicks says Serotta started telling him stories. All of a sudden, Hicks was hanging on every word. He did not realize one of the stories would stick with him for years to come.
“He controlled the whole ammo dump. And so, this was during the Korean War, there was a flash flood, and they had to move all this ammo out of the ammo dump to be able to save it from the flood," Hicks said, recalling what Serotta told him. “There's this river that was coming through the ammo dump that they had to cross to be able to move the ammo out. And so, they basically created a human chain just to pass all the boxes and weapons across.”
Hicks says Serotta, who was in charge, needed someone to stand in the middle of the rushing river, which was very deep and dangerous.
"Everyone stepped back and looked at each other. And down the line of men, no one came forward except for the only African American soldier in the regiment," Hicks said. “He stood there for hours in the middle of the rushing river, which was highly dangerous. He was basically risking his life standing in the middle of the river, passing these boxes across. He could have gotten swept away at any time.”
Hicks says Serotta received a Bronze Star Medal for getting the ammunition out.
"What he told me was it was the biggest regret of his life that he got this Bronze Star. Because the man who was in the middle passing the ammo across wasn't commended for anything and was not recognized at all," said Hicks. “He said it was because he was African American, and at the time, it was, it was a time of bigotry and prejudice."
Before Serotta told this story to Hicks, no one had heard hit. Serotta's son, Bob, was shocked when Hicks relayed the story to him.
“It's a story of prejudice that needs to be told and looked back upon, that the way things were not the way they should be," said Bob. “He might not have told us or told anyone ever. The perfect opportunity arose when Noah, you know, wanted to talk to him about Veterans Day. Pretty simple, actually.”
Hicks wrote an essay about the story for one of his high school classes, recently. He wants the story to be shared, with the hope he can find anyone who may know the soldier who stood in the middle of the river.
“Telling the story helps right a wrong, an injustice that really needs to be told," said Hicks. “It had to be told, not only because of the story itself, and it was one of Maury’s regrets, but because getting the story out there could hopefully help us find the man who was not commended for his actions in the river.”
Click here to read Hicks' full essay.