RUSK, TX (KLTV) - Gene Mahan is one of those legendary Marines who refused to die in war, although he was wounded five times.
Mahan joined the Marine Corps at the age of 15, after forging papers about his age. In many ways Mahan was older than his years, earning his pilot's license at 13 and out on his own before that.
World war II was in full swing in 1944 when Mahan was sent to Greece where he earned the first of five purple hearts for a foot wound he refers to as "a scratch." Mahan's later purple hearts were to be for much more than just scratches.
It was at Korea's Chosen Reservoir that one of the bloodiest battles of the Korean War took place. Because there were no airplanes to fly when Mahan arrived in Korea in 1951, he and other pilots were assigned to ground forces.
American forces were overwhelmed by the sheer numbers of the enemy they faced. Although Mahan was wounded in the battle, he was saved by a strange quirk of fate.
"He stood up with half of his head gone and fell over me so now I'm protected from two ways," explained Mahan. "When they finally got to us, the Army Rescue Corps...Corporal Underwood had been shot five more times and bayoneted once. They just didn't realize I was under him."
Mahan was sent to Japan to recover from his wounds and then sent back to Korea.
Still there were no planes for him to fly until he and his fellow pilots rebuilt some planes from salvaged parts. The Corsair Mahan flew was basically a fighter plane with light bombing capabilities. It was on a bombing mission that Mahan received his third wound.
But Mahan's date with purple hearts was not yet ended.
"The hour I got back was one of the largest air invasions that we'd ever had so we were all in the air and I came back with a couple more holes in myself and 21 holes in the aircraft," he said.
Once again Mahan was sent to Japan for treatment and recuperation. He thought that war was finally over for him. But there was to be one last mission that would leave him pronounced dead, and an out of body experience that would leave him forever changed. We'll share that experience with you on next week's Freedom Fighters.