Profile of a Local Korean War Veteran: Cleveland Valrey

portrait of Cleveland in Korea in 1951
Cleveland Valrey, 2nd Ranger Company (Airborne), Korea, 1951

At times we come across remarkable men hidden in plain sight in our midst. Cleveland Valrey is such a man. He currently resides in Oakland, California, where at the age of 88 he is living a quiet, unassuming life. Yet his story is truly an impressive, even epic, American story.

Cleveland was born in 1930 in Beaumont, Texas. He spent his early years living through the Great Depression. In early 1944, his family moved to Oakland as part of the large migration westward to work in California’s wartime industries. He attended high schools in Oakland and Berkeley until 1946, when at the tender age of 16 he managed to enlist in the U.S. Army Air Corps, which later became the U.S. Air Force. Following his discharge from the Air Force in 1949, Cleveland decided to make military service his career, and re-enlisted, this time in the U.S. Army. He qualified as an Army Parachutist and Airborne Ranger in 1950. He then served two combat tours in Korea: from 1950-51 as a member of the elite (and still segregated and all black) 2nd Ranger Company (Airborne), and from 1952-53 as a member of the 24th Infantry Division, U.S. Army, which by that time was integrated.

portrait of Cleveland in hospital
Cleveland recuperating from his wounds in an Osaka hospital 1951

On May 20, 1951, Cleveland was wounded in an action on Hill 581 against Chinese and North Korean forces. He was evacuated to an Army hospital in Osaka, Japan, where he recuperated from his wounds.

portrait of young Cleveland in Osaka
Cleveland Valrey, 2nd Ranger Company (Airborne), Korea, 1951

The awards he received for his Korean War service include the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star “V”, Purple Heart, Army Commendation Medal, Korean Service Medal with six battle stars and arrowhead, and the United Nations Service Medal. In the years following the war, he also received the Korean War 50th Anniversary Commemoration Medal and the Ambassador for Peace Medal from the Government of the Republic of Korea. A brief but impressive and well-crafted documentary of his renowned 2nd Ranger Company (Airborne), titled “Brother Rangers,” has been posted on the KWMF website. We encourage you to take a look:

After the Korean War, Cleveland served tours of duty in Japan from1953-55, Germany from 1961-64, and the Dominican Republic in 1965, as a member of the 7th Special Forces Group (Airborne). Next came Vietnam, where he served from 1965-66 with the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), and yet again from 1968-69, where he served with the 205th Assault Support Helicopter Company, 1st Aviation Brigade Headquarters, and the 120th Assault Support Helicopter Company. By this time he was both a Master Parachutist and a Master Army Aviator, a rare accomplishment.

Cleveland served his country in peacetime, two wars, and the Cold War for more than 30 years. He retired from his long and distinguished military career in 1977. In 2001, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Aviation Hall of Fame. And in 2005, he was inducted into the U.S. Army Ranger Hall of Fame.

Over the years, Cleveland attended a number of military schools, including Japanese language school in Sendai, and German language school in Munich. He also attended several civilian institutions while on active duty, among them the University of Maryland, College Park; the University of Southern California; and Troy State University in Alabama.

Continuing his education, Cleveland earned an AA, Language Arts, Chinese & Japanese (High Honors), Laney College, Oakland; BA, Ethnic Studies (Cum Laude); MA, History, California State University, Hayward; MA, Ethnic Studies, San Francisco State University; and an Honorary Doctor of Humanities, Payne Academy, Bible Institute International, Jackson, Mississippi. He is a Life Member, Golden Key National Honor Society; Life Member, Alumni Association, California State University, Hayward; and Life Member, Alumni Association, San Francisco State University.

Cleveland is also a Life Member in the following organizations: American Legion; AMVETS; Disabled American Veterans; Disabled Veterans’ Life Memorial Foundation, Founding Sponsor; Ranger Infantry Companies (Airborne) Association (RICA), Korean War; Retired Officers Association; Army Aviation Association of America; Military Officers Association of America; Vietnam Helicopter Pilots Association; Worldwide Army Rangers, Inc. (WAR); Smithsonian Institution, National Associate; National Museum, United States Army, Founding Sponsor; National D-Day Museum, New Orleans, Charter Member; and the Military Order of the Purple Heart.

Cleveland was married to Kikuko Awata Valrey for 56 years, until her death in 2006. Their first child Rudy was born in Hachinohe, Japan in 1953. Karl Felix was born in Sendai, Japan in 1955. Richard Cleveland and Valerie Anna were born at Fort Lewis, Washington in 1956 and 1957 respectively. And Michael Aaron was born in Munich, Germany in 1962. Cleveland and his late wife Kikuko have five grandchildren and two great granddaughters.

He recently commented, “As a matter of interest, in 1983 I visited my eldest son, then 1st Lt. Rudy Valrey, U.S. Army, who was serving as a platoon leader near the DMZ in Korea. We took the opportunity to travel around Munsan-ni near the Imjin River and surrounding hills, which is where I made a combat jump on March 23, 1951.” It must have been a memorable father-son reunion.

After more than 30 years of service to his country, Cleveland now lives a quieter, more reflective life in Oakland, a life well-lived. We salute the “Brother Ranger.”

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