November 11, 2015
Worsham among the veterans to remember on Veterans Day
Korean War veteran and longtime booster uses unique way to recognize man who befriended him during the war and introduced him to Virginia Tech
(Editor’s note: The following story was posted on in advance of the Hokies’ Military Appreciation Day game in early September. In light of today being Veterans Day, we’ve decided to re-purpose this story as a tribute to Worsham and all current and past military service members)

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – For most Americans, there is nothing particularly special about Aug. 10. It comes and goes like any other hot summer day and isn’t a date you’d necessarily circle on your calendar. Perhaps people view it as the latest day in the countdown toward schools starting, or they see it as another day of work drudgery or perhaps a day for their favorite team’s latest football practice.

But Wes Worsham views Aug. 10 through a different prism – and not just because the date happens to be his birthday. Actually, that’s irrelevant to him.

Worsham, a longtime Tech supporter for whom the field at Lane Stadium is named, uses this day to honor a late friend who fought with him during the Korean War. This friend, Arthur Fleet, shared the same birthday as Worsham, though 11 years older, and he turned Worsham in a Virginia Tech fan.

Tech’s football program celebrated Military Appreciation Day on Sept. 12 for its game against Furman, and today, celebrates Veterans Day. Worsham, no doubt, will have his mind on his friend.

Few people outside of Worsham’s close group of friends really know him. They know he possesses the resources to get his name on the field, and they know he wears those khaki pants with Hokie birds stitched on them as he stalks the sideline during football games.

But until Andy Bitter of The Roanoke Times wrote this story three years ago, few knew that Worsham did not graduate from Tech, that he was a prisoner of war and that he comes to Blacksburg every Aug. 10 to leave a beer for a comrade whom he thought had died in combat. He says a short prayer and regretfully laments wasted time.

You see, Worsham thought Fleet had died in a battle near the North Korean-China border – only to find out that wasn’t the case.

“I had thrown him on a tank after he had gotten wounded,” Worsham said. “When we got out of that firefight that day, we got back, and they had people covered up in body bags. I asked them if they had seen Fleet, and they said he was over there [referring to those in body bags]. I went over there and said a little prayer.”

Worsham, now 83, returned to the fighting. Shortly thereafter, he ended up being taken prisoner by the North Koreans. He remembers the horrific experience vividly, down to the length that he was a prisoner of war – three months and 23 days.

Worsham joined six others as POWs in that particular prison camp. The North Koreans paraded them around, but Worsham knew that they were near the front lines. They could hear American tanks blasting North Korean units.

Finally, the Turkish army, with help from an American tank column, liberated him and a few of the others. Emaciated, Worsham weighed 92 pounds.

“They didn’t treat you very well,” Worsham said of the North Koreans. “I weighed 92 pounds when I got back. Raw barley was the biggest meal. A lot of times, you didn’t have water to soak it in to make it soft. I was hit in the mouth, broke my jaw and had all my teeth knocked out. I didn’t have any teeth to eat it with. I just had to swallow it whole.”

Worsham was placed on a ship headed back to the United States. After a month-long journey, he called his parents from San Francisco in the middle of the night. Army officials had told them that their son was dead. When his mother heard his voice, she fainted.

Worsham spent nine months at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland. He gradually recovered from his wounds and went on to found his own business, selling and installing sprinkler systems to protect against fire.

But he never forgot about Fleet, who took a liking to Worsham not long after Worsham enlisted at the age of 17. He educated Worsham, a Powhatan, Virginia native, on Virginia geography, showing him where Blacksburg was and telling him about Virginia Tech.

Worsham once saved Fleet’s life, too, killing a North Korean soldier who had his gun aimed at Fleet. Fleet offered Worsham his beer ration – a can of Pabst Blue Ribbon – for saving his life. Worsham declined, but said they would drink the beer on the Yalu River, the border between North Korea and China, after driving the North Koreans off the Korean peninsula.

Worsham became a platoon leader not long after saving Fleet’s life, and he sought Fleet for advice on what to do.

“I said, ‘Fleet, they just made me a platoon leader. What do you think?’” Worsham said. “He said, ‘You’re going to get you’re a-- shot off.’ He always calling me ‘kid.’ He said, ‘Lieutenant Kid, it looks like I’m going to have to look out for you.’ – and he did.

“He told me that the first thing I needed to do was throw that 45 [pistol] away. They had given me a pistol since I was a platoon leader. You’re not supposed to have a rifle. You’re supposed to be directing rather than shooting. He told me to get a rifle and put it on my back, and he said, ‘That way, they won’t pick you off.’ I did it. Every time I had to go back to headquarters, I got that pistol and put it on.”

Years after coming back to the States, Worsham decided to get in touch with Fleet’s family in Blacksburg. He looked up the name “Fleet” in the phone book and found Arnold, Arthur’s brother.

He called Arnold – and was shocked at what he learned.

“When I called, I asked him if he had a relative killed in Korea on such and such a date, and he said, ‘No, but I had a brother in Korea that date,’” Worsham said. “That’s when I found out. I said, ‘No, he was killed. I saw him.’ He said, ‘No, he came back. He died two years ago.’

“Obviously, that wasn’t him I threw on the tank. In all the excitement, I must have thrown someone else.”

Worsham learned that Fleet had passed away from a heart attack at a relatively young age. He came to be friends of Fleet’s family, and in particular Fleet’s son, Bob, who worked in the Montgomery County Sheriff’s Office for 30 years, and Fleet’s grandson, Ben, a minister in Draper, Virginia.

Around 1970, Worsham visited Blacksburg for the first time, meeting with Fleet’s family. He became interested in the Hokies and gradually became a big backer of the football program when Jimmy Sharpe was the head coach.

He began a tradition. He celebrates his and Fleet’s birthdays by heading to Westview Cemetery in downtown Blacksburg with two Pabst Blue Ribbons in his hand. He drinks one and places the other on Fleet’s tombstone – the beer they never got to drink on the Yalu River.

It’s the perfect way for Worsham to remember his dear friend – and the time they unfortunately never got to share.

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