When 19-year-old Duane Dewey joined the Marines soon after North Korean forces rolled into the South, it was an "indefinite" enlistment—the duration of the war plus six months. Dewey was part of the 1st Marine Division, which was near Panmunjom in the spring of 1952. The command had established a series of outposts beyond the main American force. Corporal Dewey was the leader of a machine-gun squad in a reinforced platoon dug in at one of these positions when it was attacked by a battalion-size Chinese force around midnight on April 16.

The American outpost was quickly overrun. Carrying their machine guns, Dewey and his men fell back; now out of their foxholes and fighting on exposed ground, they tried to stabilize their position. Dewey worked his gun—firing so regularly that he feared the barrel might melt—and the bodies of Chinese soldiers piled up on one another in front of him. Seeing that he had only three cans of ammunition left, he ran to another machine gun for more. As he was returning, a grenade exploded at his feet, knocking him down. Bleeding heavily from the thigh and groin, he lay on the ground a moment, trying to reorient himself. A medic appeared, and as he knelt over Dewey to remove his blood-soaked pants, another grenade hit the ground beside them. Dewey grabbed it and for a second considered throwing it back. But he decided he didn't have the time or the strength, so he tucked it underneath him, pulling the medic down with his other hand and yelling, "Hit the dirt, Doc." The grenade detonated, lifting Dewey several inches off the ground and tearing up his hip. The medic was unharmed.

Dewey was taken back to the aid station. For an hour he lay outside waiting for treatment, not sure that he would make it. Then he was given a shot of morphine and taken to a trench filled with other wounded Americans. He spent the rest of the night wondering which side would win the battle raging outside. Shortly after dawn, when American troops relieved his company, he was evacuated. Doctors treating him in the field hospital found that in addition to the gaping shrapnel wounds throughout the lower part of his body, he had also taken a bullet in the stomach. He was hospitalized in Japan for a month, then flown to the States, where he would spend three more months convalescing. On the way home, the plane stopped over briefly in Hawaii, where an officer visited him in the hospital and presented him with the Purple Heart. When Dewey casually mentioned that he had heard his captain was going to recommend him for the Medal of Honor, the officer shot him a look that made him resolve never to mention it again.

Dewey was back home in South Haven, Michigan, when he received a telegram informing him that he had indeed been awarded the Medal of Honor. On March 12, 1953, Dwight Eisenhower presented it to him at the White House. "You must have a body of steel," the president said to him after reviewing his citation.

Dewey and his wife returned home after a week in Washington to a great surprise: To honor him, the townspeople had built a three-bedroom prefabricated house for them, completely furnished and with fully stocked cupboards and refrigerator.