Joe Cole of Pendleton spent years wondering about a mysterious traveling lump in his leg. He first noticed a hard object in his upper thigh, which bothered him enough that he didn’t sit down on hard surfaces more than necessary.
Over the years it seemed to travel around, each time a bit farther down his leg. Concerned, he visited doctors who speculated it might be the start of varicose veins or a calcium deposit, but none of them seemed to be worried. Finally, while skiing in December of 1984, Cole noticed that every time he returned to the top of the hill the back of his leg would hurt. Doctors ordered X-rays this time, and removed a bullet near a tendon behind his knee cap.
The bullet was from Cole’s time serving on the front lines during the Korean War — more than 30 years before.
At the time the incident most likely occurred, Cole and his unit were fighting about 3,000 to 4,000 feet from a mainline trench. It was winter, so everyone was bundled up in heavy clothing. The battle didn’t allow them to change their clothes, and after the fight they were so dirty, their underclothes were just thrown into a pile and burned. “I wouldn’t have noticed any blood,” Cole said.
He didn’t ever find a scar where the bullet entered his leg, though he figured it must have entered “somewhere in the hip area,” and he said he may have been unconscious at the time he was hit. The bullet, longer and with a sharper tip than American ammo, was thought to be of Russian or Chinese manufacture. The doctor who removed it allowed Cole to keep it as a souvenir.
Cole, the principal of West Hills and Lincoln elementary schools in Pendleton, considered himself very fortunate.