Law professor awarded medals for war service

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By Katie Vloet
U-M Law

As Yale Kamisar climbed T-Bone Hill, with just one man in front of him and hundreds of soldiers behind him, he thought of the letter he had written to his parents earlier that day. It was just a quick note to say hello, I'm doing well over here in Korea, I'll write more later. At the time, he didn't know that he would be sent into one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War.

Climbing in daylight, and knowing that the North Koreans were tunneled into the hill, he grew certain that he would not come down alive. The letter, the Army second lieutenant thought. He expected it would take at least a week for it to arrive at his parents' home, while a telegram notifying them of his death would arrive sooner. He couldn't shake his worry that they would, in essence, receive a letter from their dead son.

The Battle of T-Bone Hill would come to be known as one of the 1952 Battles of Hill Eerie. The military outpost was taken several times by each side-United Nations, North Korean, and Chinese Communist forces-resulting in hundreds of casualties. Kamisar, contrary to his prediction, was not one of them.

"It seemed like a suicide mission," recalls Kamisar, the Clarence Darrow Distinguished University Professor Emeritus at Michigan Law. He lived-but shrapnel struck him, head to toe. Halfway up the hill, he felt a sharp pain in his left eye. Blood, everywhere. He didn't open his eye for the next six or seven hours, for fear he was blinded.

In the end, he suffered no permanent injuries. When he returned to the United States, he completed law school, worked for law professors and at a firm, then began teaching. In 1965, he joined the faculty at Michigan Law, where his scholarship on criminal law and police interrogation led to his nickname: "The father of Miranda."

In spite of his long and distinguished career, however, something was missing. When he applied for a veterans' loan in the 1970s, he learned a fire had burned a warehouse that held military records. His were among them. There was no record of his service at all, let alone his bravery and combat-related injuries.

Last year, Kamisar, now 85, made a decision: "I didn't want to die without any documentation that I'd fought in the war," he says. He contacted the office of Michigan Senator Carl Levin, the now-retired chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee; Levin's staffers worked with the Army to set the record straight.

"I would have been perfectly happy if Senator Levin had just sent me the documentation in the mail," Kamisar says. But the senator and his staff decided that Kamisar was due something more than that. Last November, Levin presented four military service medals to Kamisar in a ceremony at the Law School: the Purple Heart Medal, the Presidential Unit Citation, the National Defense Service Medal, and the Republic of Korea-Korea War Service Medal.

"No medal or recognition is equal to the service and sacrifice of veterans like Professor Kamisar, but my staff works hard to ensure that every Michigan veteran receives the decorations they are due; it's the least we should do for our veterans," Levin said. "I was proud to participate in acknowledging Professor Kamisar's service to our nation."

A new generation of veterans also was on hand to witness the awarding of the medals. Among them was law student Lance Taylor, MILVETS (Michigan Law Veterans Society) commander and a former Army specialist. "Professor Kamisar served at a time when veterans were not accorded the respect that they are today," Taylor says. "The fact that Senator Levin came personally to present Professor Kamisar his medals demonstrates the gratitude that our nation and its leaders have for the soldiers of America's 'forgotten war,' and our recognition of all of their accomplishments."

Published: Thu, Jun 04, 2015

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