Thursday, November 23, 2017

Sergeant First Class Benjamin Hooke Milliken

1949 or 1950.  Juniata County, Pennsylvania.  Some of the soldiers serving with Philip Hughes’s outfit in the Korean War didn’t last a full day in combat.  One example (out of many) was Sergeant First Class Benjamin Hooke Milliken. He was one of about 75 replacements trucked up to the front from Pusan, arriving at Kwanbin-ni at 10:00 on the morning of July 30, 1950.

At this time, Philip’s 34th  Infantry Regiment was still attempting to reconstitute itself after its roster had been depleted from 1,981 (July 3) down to about 1,150. The regiment suffered massive losses of men and materiel in the July 20 battle and subsequent rout from Taejon. The headquarters company lacked a switchboard for communications and capacity for clerical functions—like documenting its personnel rosters. Milliken and the other replacements were enthusiastically received and within ten minutes were dispatched to the 34th's constituent units as needed.  Milliken was assigned to Philip Hughes’s B (Baker) Company.

Within a couple hours of the replacements’ arrival, North Korean forces encroached on the 34th Regiment’s defensive position at Kwanbin-ni, one of the last ridges impeding the enemy’s access to the Naktong River.  If the enemy were to succeed in crossing the Naktong in any appreciable strength, the rest of South Korea would be indefensible and thus subject to capitulation. For this reason, the 34th Regiment remained on the front lines despite its battered condition. American replacements arrived at the front just as the rifle companies were coming under fire by the North Koreans.

This was the situation in which 27-year-old Ben Milliken found himself committed. He was one of many American soldiers rushed into Korea after the outbreak of hostilities. He had already served with the U.S. Army Service Forces during World War II as a quartermaster supply specialist. The emergency in Korea changed all of that: with the stroke of a pen, rear echelon men like Ben were converted to riflemen. Ben left behind a wife and two small children in the Tuscarora Valley of south-central Pennsylvania, where his family had been rooted for at least seven generations.

July 30 was a typically bad day for the 34th Regiment’s Baker Company.  The unit was outnumbered and outgunned by the North Koreans, and the surviving members were physically spent.  They gave up the ridge at Kwanbin-ni, taking their casualties with them.  Among the wounded was Ben Milliken. He died later that day. Ben had not been deployed long enough to adjust to the time difference from the continental U.S.

Because of its administrative turmoil at the time, the Army had yet to document Ben’s unit assignment.  Consequently, Ben Milliken’s remains were interred under a headstone in Pennsylvania that describes him as being a member of the “24th Division, Replacement Company.” Korean War Casualty Databases reconciled in 1979 reveal that Ben was assigned to the 24th Division’s 34th Regiment, Company B.

Benjamin Hooke Milliken’s remains are interred in the New Church Hill Cemetery in Turbett Township, Pennsylvania.

Friday, November 17, 2017

A Well-Traveled Mule

1951. Korea. Even an event as ghastly as the Korean War provided the rare moment of humor.  Here we have the story of an Oklahoma mule raised for the U.S. Army during the early years of World War II.  Like virtually everything in the Army, this mule had a serial number - or more specifically, a brand, which read "OK80." Once it grew to the appropriate size, the mule was shipped across the Pacific Ocean to carry supplies required by Stilwell's forces in the China-Burma-India theater.  As World War II came to a close, OK80 was transferred under lend-lease to the Nationalist Chinese Army, for whom it labored into the late 1940s during Chiang Kai-Shek's civil war with Chairman Mao.  In 1949, Mao's victorious army absorbed assets from the Nationalist army, including mule OK80. The animal was subsequently put to work by the Chinese People's Volunteer Army as it was deployed in Korea in 1950.  Having survived any number of battles and attacks by U.S. air power, this and several other mules were abandoned by their retreating Chinese keepers during the spring of 1951.  It was then that U.S. Army soldiers found OK80 and its undernourished colleagues grazing on a hillside.  Quartermaster personnel gathered these animals and rehabilitated them over a number of days with a diet of cereal and sugar.  OK80 was subsequently put to work - once again - for the U.S. Army.

Friday, November 10, 2017

North Korean T-34 Tank

June 1950.  Seoul, South Korea.  A Russian-made T-34 of the North Korean People's Army parades before civilian onlookers.  It was fast, rugged, heavily armored, and available in large numbers. Opposing forces found this tank nearly invincible during the early weeks of the Korean War.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Last Watch

1953.  South Korea.  Salvaged by a farmer, these remnants of an Army uniform have been fashioned into a scarecrow that stands sentry over a barley field.