Friday, December 28, 2018

Korea Farewell

Another superb image from the Doug Price photo collection.
Early 1951. Pusan, Korea. Despite the sign affixed to the building that says "NO PHOTOGRAPHING," Maj. C.B. White of the 15th Field Artillery, U.S. Army 2nd Division, captured this dock-side image of a brass ensemble in 1951 as he departed Korea for Japan. A steady rain was underway at the time. The Eighth Army usually provided modest fanfare to send each batch of troops on their way to and from Korea. While the photo resolution is sketchy, it may be evidence of personnel integration at a time when the Army was still playing catch-up to Truman's Executive Order 9981.

Pvt. Philip Hughes was one of the first (and youngest) U.S. Army soldiers to depart to Korea at the beginning of the conflict. He entered Korea via this same port on July 3, 1950. His remains came back from Korea in 1951 as he was subsequently prepared for final interment in Arlington National Cemetery, just a few miles from his boyhood home in Washington, D.C.

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Identification of Leo Duquette

1949 or early 1950.  Japan.  Leo Duquette (circled) of Toledo, Ohio, out on the town.
From this festive photo, fast-forward to October 1950.  As U.S. forces push northward to recapture territory lost during the opening weeks of the Korean War, graves registration teams revisit those battle sites in search of remains.  Many sites hosted multiple sets of remains, sometimes buried, and sometimes not.  Identification of individuals was not always possible.

Search teams active to the south of Chonui found pretty much what they expected.  On July 11, 1950, the 21st Infantry Regiment's third battalion was ordered to stand fast on a ridge line that straddled the road south to Choch'iwon. It was there in October that graves registration found the remains of 164 Americans.  Time and the elements compromised much of the material that would aid in identification.  Persons who could not be identified with technologies prevailing at that time were assigned an inventory number.  Among these was X-132, who was buried as an unknown at the National Cemetery of the Pacific, better known to some as "The Punchbowl."  Officially, Leo would remain "missing in action."

Fast forward again 67 years, almost to the day.  The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency is working round-the-clock to examine disinterred remains of U.S. servicemen retrieved from the battlefields of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.  On October 16, 2017, the DPAA completed its DNA analysis to determine that X-132 was PFC Leo Duquette of L Company, 21st I/R.  Like PVT Philip Thomas Hughes, Leo enlisted in the Army as a 17-year-old kid. In July 1950, at age 19, Leo and much of his battalion were surrounded by superior numbers of North Korean forces. Few of the Americans made it out alive. Leo was the son of Lucien, a carpenter, and his wife Corrine.  Both parents have long since passed away without knowing the fate of their son.

Leo is survived by some younger siblings. In November 2018, Leo's siblings received his remains for interment in northwest Ohio.

Friday, December 14, 2018

Field Hygiene

c. 1950. Korea.  These Marines hold a hard-won hilltop position. They "enjoy" field accommodations very similar to those endured by PVT Philip Hughes and his U.S. Army colleagues. Here, we see PFC Richard West of South Dakota getting a haircut. He holds a mess kit water cup filled with shaving mud.  PFC John Clements of Texas is the barber. PFC Robert Green of Oregon waits his turn, passing the time with an old magazine.

Friday, December 7, 2018

Philip's Last Journey

March 21, 1951.  San Francisco, California.  Cargo from the USS General Randall carries the remains of personnel killed in the Korean War.  These were the first of over 34,000 remains to be repatriated. For the first time in the history of American warfare, the policy of repatriation was implemented to the greatest extent practicable. The U.S. Army established a mortuary affairs facility at Kokura, Japan, where a Coca-Cola plant was converted to an assembly line for the processing of remains.  These tasks involved the proper identification of individuals, embalming the remains, and disposition of personal effects.  All of this took time, so many of the remains were interred in temporary graves while they awaited processing.
Pvt. Philip Hughes, killed in action on September 12, 1950, began his last journey in late 1951.  Philip was shipped in a flag-draped casket held in a rugged shipping container like those shown here. His container was transshipped to a rail car that carried him to the Defense Department's east coast mortuary hub in New York.  The last leg of his journey took him by rail to Washington, D.C, and ultimately, Arlington National Cemetery, where his final interment took place on February 27, 1952.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Dignity Takes a Break

Photo by Gene Herrick, AP
September 27, 1950. West of Taegu, South Korea, on the banks of the Naktong River.  Three months have passed since the start of the Korean War.  The clash of arms precipitated a massive flow of civilians, desperate to escape harm's onslaught. But for American troops just introduced to the melee, it's complicated.  This awkward image shows a U.S. 24th Division military policeman frisking the mother of at least one small child.  In a general sense, the civilians are innocent.  The Americans found out the hard way that civilian refugees were tactical pawns in this struggle. Most Koreans were simple peasants who had no capacity for the ideological issues that framed the war raging around them.  But they could be coerced by combatants of either side to aid and abet the war effort, simply by reporting observations of troop movements or by carrying weapons or supplies. Hence we see the invasive security measures in practice. If truth is the first casualty of war, then dignity is next on the list.

Thursday, November 22, 2018

Dog Gone Dogs!

Photo by James Martenhoff, AP
March 12, 1951.  Pvt. Philip Hughes has already been consumed by the Korean War, but other American soldiers would be engaged in the conflict for another two years.  Pvt. Dick L. Powell of Findlay, Ohio is at the front lines where the U.S. Army is struggling to resist a Chinese offensive. This photo captures a precious moment of rest and repast for the private.  Having deposited his carbine behind him, Powell is as fascinated with "Fuzzy" as the puppy is fascinated with the soldier's chow. Dogs were plentiful in Korea, serving the indigenous population both as pets and as comestibles. This breed was specific to Korea.  If they weren't eaten, these dogs grew to resemble a cross between a German shepherd and a fox terrier.

December 1950, vicinity of Chosin Reservoir, North Korea.  An exhausted U.S. Marine naps behind the wheel of a weapons carrier while his newly befriended puppy whines in his ear.  Photo by David Douglas Duncan.
January 15, 1951, on a Korean airfield. Lt. J.J. Schneider (left) and Capt. J.B. Hannon (right) of the U.S. Air Force 18th Fighter-Bomber Group are perched on the wing of a North American F-51 Mustang.  Accompanying them is the group mascot, "Admiration Dawg." Dawg flew at least ten missions in Korea, sitting in the laps of various Mustang pilots.
Photo by Jim Pringle, AP.

Admiration Dawg once again, this time in the care of Lt. J.V. LeRoy.

Friday, November 16, 2018

Riflemen at Work

September 1950. Korea.  This is a David Douglas Duncan photo.  Duncan was embedded with the U.S. Marines during his photo-journalistic foray into the opening months of the Korean War. So while the visual cues are few, it's a safe bet that these are marines (the term "soldier" is specific to U.S. Army troops).

Regardless of their branch of service, the American riflemen cast into Korea encountered the same tactical objectives.  The key to victory was control of hills that overlooked the roads.  Without control of the high ground, the truck-bound American forces were unable to traverse the Korean countryside. The rifleman's task during the summer of 1950 was not unlike that of Sisyphus; while Sisyphus repeatedly rolled the same rock up the same hill, the riflemen were resigned to taking a hill only to start all over again on the neighboring hill.  And the next, and the next.

Duncan's image conveys the exertion and fortitude of fighting men.  The man in the foreground wears a rain poncho. Cautious yet deliberate motion is in evidence, displayed not only by the men, but also in the forward lean of the scraggly trees.  We do not know the nature of their enemy's entrenchment, but men moving forward probably don't know, either.  When such information is lacking, speed and aggressiveness fill the void.

This is how U.S. Army Pvt. Philip Hughes spent the ten weeks he was in Korea, the last summer of his life.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Buddy Sizemore and the Grand Ole Cavalry

From left; Ashland and Little Jimmie Sizemore; Buddy Sizemore, fresh out of basic; Buddy in Ike jacket with 1st Cav Division shoulder patch.
November 2, 1950 found Corporal Charles “Buddy Sizemore” in the cold and hilly environs of Unsan, North Korea.  The 20-year-old from Ashland, Kentucky served with the headquarters company of the U.S. Army’s  8th Cavalry Regiment as a scout, probably with the regiment’s Intelligence and Reconnaissance platoon. Cpl. Sizemore’s unit was part of U.S. Eighth Army’s push deep into North Korea to the Yalu River.  General MacArthur promised that this maneuver would bring the four-month old Korean War to a conclusion, allowing Buddy and the others to return home by Christmas.

That plan did not come to fruition, due to the sudden arrival in North Korea of foot soldiers under the flag of the Chinese People’s Volunteer Army (PVA). The Chinese advanced in numbers that were several orders of magnitude greater than the opposing American and South Korean forces. Using effective tactics already proven by their North Korean allies, the PVA forces stealthily marched cross-country to encircle the road-bound American units.  The PVA systematically struck the gaps between U.S. units, attacking battalion and regimental command posts. 

Buddy Sizemore was in the midst of this debacle.  No setting could be farther removed from the rural music hall circuit travelled by his country and western band.  Billed as “Asher and Little Jimmie,” the family act featured Buddy’s father and brother.  Other family members were added over time. Buddy played bass fiddle while displaying keen timing as a comedian. Stage acts like this blended a variety of music and comedy, a forerunner to television’s “Hee Haw” program.

There is limited evidence to account for Buddy Sizemore’s fate. The 8th Cavalry was shattered at Unsan, leading to the death or capture of most of its ranks. With unit cohesion shattered, the rifle companies on the line fought until ammunition ran low. Disintegrating into small groups, the Americans had no choice but to retreat as best they could through enemy lines. They had to abandon many of their vehicles and heavy weapons.  Roll calls after November 4, 1950 revealed the tremendous loss of personnel. Buddy would not be accounted for until 2006, when his remains were identified among a batch returned from North Korea in 2000. Forensics allowed investigators to ascertain a snippet of Buddy’s fate.  His remains were part of a small group exhumed in the vicinity of Hwaong-Ri, a village south of Unsan and near a documented escape route used by elements of the 8th Cav.

Little Jimmie (not to be confused with “Little Jimmy Dickens”) grew up to some renown as a country music personality. The Sizemore Family were among the first Kentuckians nominated to the Grand Ole Opry’s Hall of Fame.  At best, Buddy joined the family in spirit to receive the accolades. His remains rest in the East Hill Cemetery of Rushville, Indiana.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Call of the Reservist

1950. Unknown U.S. location.  The Korean War erupted as the "wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time," revealing the U.S. military's unpreparedness. After the invasion of South Korea by North Korean forces, the inadequacy of the U.S. Eighth Army's Japan-based occupation forces was quickly revealed. The U.S. Army resorted to a "Plan B" of sorts.  Central to this plan was a large roster of reservists - veterans of World War II who maintained reserve status.  These men were at home in the U.S., carrying on with the fruits of victory by starting families, building careers, and looking forward to a life of peace and prosperity.

Regardless of their sentiments about being recalled, these men were bound by obligation.  With rare exception, they dutifully responded to mobilization orders, usually with little time to get their personal affairs in order. Late 1950 revealed countless scenes like the one above.  Here, we see a young sergeant spending a precious few last moments with his wife and son.  The setting is possibly an airport, but probably a train or bus station. We have no record of their identities or of the events subsequent to this parting.

Friday, October 26, 2018

The Mustang's Last Chance

Image courtesy of the Doug Price photo collection

October 1950. Suwon, Korea.  Here, in all its shabby-chic glory, is a U.S. Air Force North American F-51D Mustang. It is returning from a sortie during which the pilot apparently found no targets worthy of the HVAR rockets affixed to the underside of the plane's wings. The pilot taxis his aircraft, serial number 474385, across a rutted, unimproved field lined by make-shift tent facilities. The aircraft itself shows evidence of replacement parts and some rough handling.

The Mustang was arguably the paragon of piston-engine fighter planes.  Designed and built for World War II, the Mustang excelled in air-to-air combat over Europe and the Pacific.  By 1950, however, new jet technologies yielded fighters with performance that eclipsed the prop-driven Mustangs.  The USAF began to systematically cast off its once-numerous fleet of Mustangs; some were exported to foreign air forces while others eased into retirement by serving with Air National Guard units. Just as many went to the scrap heap.

With the outbreak of war in Korea, the U.S. Far East Air Force (USFEAF), based in Japan, was in the midst of its transition from prop- to jet-powered fighters.  Consequently, the command lacked sufficient numbers of either type.  Within days, it was clear to U.S. military planners that an infusion of air power would be critical to thwarting the North Korean invasion. About 30 Mustang air frames awaited scrapping in Tachikawa, Japan; these would enjoy a reprieve. The existing cadre of USFEAF fighter pilots easily retrograded from their jet-powered F-80 Shooting Stars to the trusty Mustang. 

As the magnitude of the Korean conflict grew during July, the need for additional Mustangs was evident. An order from USAF headquarters initiated the recall of Mustangs from state-controlled Air Guard units.  This requisition had unfortunate consequences.  Military culture is such that when a unit is ordered to relinquish a portion of its assets - be it materiel or personnel - that unit will likely select the dregs of its inventory.  The USAF subsequently gathered a fleet of 145 Mustangs for shipment to Korea in July 1950, a move which allowed Air Guard units to part with many of their maintenance headaches.

Thus was the lot drawn by USFEAF pilots winging over Korea in the Mustang.  The sleek fighter was beloved by many pilots for its handling and performance, but age was taking its toll. No Mustang airframe was less than five years old (geriatric in the era of rapid aviation technology change). If it was stored in Japan, the Mustang's liquid-cooled Merlin engine typically suffered from deteriorated fuel hoses and couplings.  Failure of these components brought a number of pilots and their planes to grief.  When employing an Air Guard cast-off, the pilot risked lapses in reliability that were extremely inconvenient when navigating over and around Korea's mountainous terrain.  And all of this was aside from the enemy's voluminous anti-aircraft fire.

Although tired, the Mustangs delivered bombs, rockets, napalm, and machine gun fire against enemy targets. Pvt. Philip Hughes and the other ground soldiers in Korea cheered all the air support they could get as they faced a numerically superior enemy.  The venerable Mustang could not fight the war single-handedly, but it probably played an instrumental role in preventing the collapse of the United Nations' defense of South Korea during the summer of 1950.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Diplomacy in Progress

c1950. Korea. Refugees are on the move over an unimproved road that has already been reduced to muddy ruts by military traffic. A G.I. shares a treat from his ration box: a Jim Dandee cookie? A Brachs candy? Or a stick of gum?  That it came from a five-year-old ration box didn't matter to this little girl.

The young man to the right rear is an enigma.  Ostensibly a civilian, he bears a load on the A-frame perched on his back. He is old enough to be a soldier. Why has he not joined ranks with the Republic of Korea army to defend his country?  Is he travelling covertly as a scout for the North Korean Peoples Army, or as a guerilla sympathetic to those forces? If so, he was hardly unique.

Even this brutal war allowed humanity to display brief moments of kindness. The identities and fates of these individuals are unknown. We can only hope they forged memories durable enough to detract from the hardships that each would endure.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Sergeant Warren Clyde Christiansen

Trout Creek boasts the smallest secondary school district in the state of Utah.  It's nestled in arid farm country in the far, far west portion of the state, just a stone's throw from the Nevada state line. When compiling data for the 1940 population census, the census-taker's last stop in this remote district was the farm of Fred Christiansen and his wife Clara. The census shows two sons in the household at the time: John and Frank.

There was a third son, Warren, age 19 in 1940, who had already departed the farm after attaining an eighth-grade education. Warren was by then billeted at Fort Winfred Scott, the beautiful headquarters for the artillery defense of San Francisco and its adjacent coastline.

Warren would serve in the Army throughout World War II.  He got married during the war prior to his being shipped overseas. His combat resume included a Bronze Star for his participation in the retaking of Bougainille from the Japanese in the Solomon Islands. Meanwhile, his wife bore him a first daughter in 1943, and a second after the war in 1946. 

Warren stayed in the Army after World War II.  When the Korean War began, he was a sergeant, rushed to Korea along with other American troops stationed in occupied Japan. Less than three weeks into the war, on July 20, Warren stood with Pvt. Philip Hughes and the rest of the already depleted B Company, 34th Infantry Regiment. There, on the slopes above the Kapch'on River, they formed a defensive line against the North Korean Army's advance. In the pre-dawn rain of July 20, Warren Christiansen's squad of riflemen attempted to hold off enemy troops in numbers far superior to their own, advancing uphill from the darkness below. The position of B Company was summarily overrun, as the Americans were scattered, killed or captured. Their retreat was too disorganized to allow for an accounting of dead and wounded. Many, like Warren, would be listed as missing in action. But there was apparently an officer with presence of mind to record heroic deeds of the some of soldiers under his command. Citations included a second Bronze Star for Christiansen.

In late 1950, American forces regained the territory surrendered during the early days of the war.  Graves Registrations units performed the gruesome task of recovering remains of troops lost during the summer 1950. Some remained where they fell, while others were hastily buried by the few civilians who had remained in the area through the see-saw battles. The bulk of the recovery would take months. Warren Christiansen would not be officially accounted for until October 1951. Additional finds would continue in decreasing numbers for many years to come, as the once-open countryside of Warren's last battle was methodically developed with new construction fueled by South Korea's booming economy.

While he was still listed as missing in action, Warren Christiansen's second Bronze Star was presented to his five-year-old daughter Mary Ellen during an April 1951 ceremony at Fort Douglas, Utah.  

Friday, October 5, 2018

Clarence "Gypsy" Martin

[UPDATE, April 25, 2019: We now have a genuine photo of MSGT Martin]

This is my sketch of Clarence “Gypsy” Martin. I have not seen a photograph of him, so artistic license was exercised here. He was a singular character among the 34,000 or so men who died in Korea. Born “somewhere out west” in 1922, he was at times soft-spoken and bookish, the sort who enjoyed throwing big words into conversations.  Martin served in World War II, where he was badly injured as he manned a machine gun. His valor was witnessed by the famed war correspondent Ernie Pyle, who lobbied unsuccessfully to have Martin awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor. Martin was, however, successful in getting a metal plate fitted to replace the portion of his skull that was creased by a bullet.  

After his World War II discharge, he was at a bit of a loss.  He lifted weights and enjoyed playing baseball. He regularly went to church. Still, he was restless, and after a few months, he re-enlisted in the Army. He met his wife Myrle in 1948, with whom he settled in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. A year later, she bore him a son. Myrle taught him to crochet, and he proceeded to create afghans, doilies, and tablecloths.

By 1950 he was a Master Sergeant, and by 1951 in Korea, with the 21st Infantry Regiment. He led a rifle platoon.  He cut quite a figure on the battlefields of Korea. Swarthy complexioned and medium height, he wore a handlebar mustache, the tips of which he kept meticulously waxed.  He eschewed a helmet because of the plate in his skull. He wore his hair long, slicked back in a pompadour. To this he added a bandana and a pair of earrings, courtesy of Myrle. For laughs, we may suppose, he affixed little bells to his combat boots. Clarence Martin would be called “Gypsy” by the men under his command. Combat brought out Martin’s aggression as well as his booming voice. “C’mon you SOBs, let’s get going!”

On April 25, 1951, at about 1:00 in the morning, Gypsy Martin and his platoon were near Chipo-ri North Korea, where they faced off on a hilltop against a swarm of Chinese infantry. Their position was overrun, with Martin being injured twice in the process. He ordered a retreat, but manned a machine gun to cover the platoon’s withdrawal. It was reported that before the machine gun ran out of ammunition, he killed between 50 and 80 Chinese. But before the platoon could fully withdraw, the Chinese deployed their own machine gun. Wounded and bleeding, Martin charged the enemy positions with a carbine. He fell, wounded again. The Americans watched as Gyspy Martin rose to his feet and walked – WALKED – into the ranks of Chinese. He grasped his carbine by the barrel, using it to club away at enemy soldiers.

The Americans re-took the position the next day.  There, they found Martin’s remains on the hill, accompanied by a number of Chinese around him. For months after the clash at Chipo-ri, Gypsy Martin’s colleagues told stories about him as they gathered around their campfires.

He was finally interred in Arlington National Cemetery.

Friday, September 28, 2018

March of Warriors

Summer 1950. Korea. U.S. Army soldiers are paraded through the streets of Seoul on their way to a series of improvised prison camps.  Only days removed from peacetime billets in Japan, these men were rushed to Korea in early July 1950 with vague orders to resist the invasion of North Korean forces. Largely unprepared for war, many men paid with their lives within minutes of initial contact with the enemy.  Those who could not beat a hasty retreat were captured, falling under the control of captors who had neither the temperament nor resources to maintain prisoners. The Geneva Convention - an international protocol that attempted to civilize the conduct of war - established a number of prohibitions, including the parading of prisoners for propaganda purposes. Unfortunately, the North Koreans were not signatories of the Convention.  The prisoner of war camps imposed deprivations greater than many men could bear.  Forty-three percent of American prisoners died in captivity.  For the most part, their remains are still interred in unmarked graves in North Korea.  Those who lived to be repatriated brought home emotional scars that gripped for years to come.

Friday, September 21, 2018

California Farewell

1950. San Diego, California.  This is already a well-circulated image, but it still resonates.  Accompanying facts are few, but imagination allows us to fill in the blanks.  The USC sticker in the car window hints of a peacetime life that has been postponed by the exigency of war.  Central Casting could not have provided a more photogenic couple. Yet their moment evokes poignancy devoid of theatrics. They contemplate an aircraft carrier looming before them. He will momentarily depart to board that ship. It will take him across the Pacific Ocean, where the carrier will take its place with Task Force 77 in the Sea of Japan. From there, the ship and its crew will participate in the Korean War. He is an officer.  He could be a pilot, but the ship requires officers for many other roles as well. We know that she will await his return.

Friday, September 14, 2018

To the Victors Go the Spoils

Late 1940s. Japan. As soon as World war II came to a close, American and allied forces initiated what would become a seven year occupation of Japan.  The occupation involved upwards of 350,000 American troops, complemented by lesser numbers of British Commonwealth personnel. They were charged with demobilizing Japan's residual military infrastructure and keeping civic order through the ensuing economic reconstruction.  

Having endured four years of ferocious warfare in the Pacific, Americans were astonished that the Japanese offered no practical resistance to their occupiers.  What else could the Japanese do? With a destroyed economy and homelessness at 30 percent, the people of Japan sought opportunity by cooperating with the occupation forces. One of the earliest and most robust opportunities for the Japanese was to offer hospitality services, including restaurants, bars, shops, and ...personal services. 

American military personnel were very young; about half were teenagers. They had plenty of disposable income in a land where a little money went a long way. The Japanese learned to tweak their traditional products and services, making them more amenable to American consumers.  The photo above shows an American soldier enjoying bath house services, in this case administered by a lovely female "customer service" agent.

These same young men would serve as the vanguard of U.S. forces committed to the Korean War after June 25, 1950.  

Friday, September 7, 2018

Not Forgotten

Summer 1950. Korea.  This is one of the more iconic images to emerge from the Korean War.  We see one soldier comforting another who just learned that his best friend was killed in action.  In the background is a medical corpsman tending casualty tags.  I share this because September 12 approaches.  On that date in this year, 2018, we recognize the 68th anniversary of the loss of Pvt. Philip Hughes, killed in action in the vicinity of Hill 300, Kyongju, South Korea. There is no photograph that records the aftermath of Philip's demise.  This image will have to suffice as substitute for him and the 34,000 other Americans whose lives were claimed by that war.  

Friday, August 31, 2018

A Pensive Cast-off

Photo by Carl Mydans

Mid July 1950.  These are a sampling of 1st Cavalry Division men aboard an LST bound for Korea.  These men will land unopposed on July 18 on the beach at Pohang-dong on South Korea's east coast.  As this picture was taken, they knew little about the war except that it was only about 20 days old and it was not going well at all.  They gather at the railing, pondering the sudden end of their easy occupation duties as they watch the methodical retrieval of mooring lines on the dock below.  The 1st Cav would soon take its place on the Pusan Perimeter, bolstering the tattered remnants of the 24th Infantry Division that preceded them into combat. These were "cavalrymen" in name only; they functioned like any other infantry division, proceeding to war either on foot or courtesy of a GMC "deuce-and-a-half" truck.

Friday, August 24, 2018

Lifeline on Rails

Photo courtesy of the Doug Price collection.

C. 1950-51.  In a strategic sense, the rail yard in Pusan was the most valuable real estate in South Korea during the Korean War.  At the time, the nation's road network was insufficient to support the volume and variety of heavy traffic needed to sustain the U.N. forces combatting North Korea's incursion. Transportation was best achieved on the Korean rail network, developed by the Japanese during their occupation of Korea during the first half of the 20th century.  

In 1950, with the advent of the Korean War, U.S. and allied planners immediately recognized the strategic value of these railroads.  For military purposes, the port city of Pusan was the heart of this network, because it was here that maritime cargo would be transshipped to the railroads' rolling stock.

The majority of military personnel introduced to Korea approached the front lines as close as could be practically achieved by rail. Their journeys started in Pusan, which at the same time was the ultimate collection point of Korean refugees displaced by war. These refugees arrived in Pusan with few resources.  To a large extent, they survived by begging, bartering, or scavenging the refuse generated by the American and other U.N. armies.  

Thus is the setting for this photograph. For the thousands of Americans who served in Korea, their first encounter with the Korean people was achieved in this manner.

Friday, August 17, 2018

KATUSAs to the Rescue!

Desperation sometimes begets innovation.  So it was for the U.S. Eighth Army during the opening months of the Korean War.  Late 1940s budget austerity meant that most regiments entered the war at only two-thirds strength.  While replacements were thrown into the fray as quickly as possible, they were not enough to replenish staggering combat losses that the U.S. Army suffered through the summer of 1950.

And so Eighth Army planners devised a solution: infuse the enlisted ranks of U.S. Army units with Korean men - or as it so often was - boys.

Official nomenclature described them as "Korean Augmentation to the United States Army," which reduces to the "KATUSA" acronym.  KATUSAs would be fully integrated into the ranks of U.S. fighting units, thus establishing the means for their care, feeding, and utilization. There was some logic to this concept.  For one, there were plenty of able-bodied men available of (or near) fighting age, right there in South Korea.  And because they were native to the country, these same individuals brought knowledge of the landscape.  On the flip side was a virtually intractable language barrier.

The South Korea government, such as it was at the time, was fully complicit in this scheme.  The "drafting" of KATUSAs began in July 1950. This was often accomplished by constables who simply yanked boys off the street and pitched them onto the back of trucks.  "Basic training" was less-than rudimentary, accomplished in a matter of hours.

The 24th Infantry Division, which was the first U.S. Army unit dispatched to Korea, was in pretty bad shape by the end of August 1950.  The division was placed in reserve to provide its men time to recuperate. It was in this rest camp that KATUSAs were introduced to their organization.  There was no prescription for their use.  Instead, each unit fostered its own approach. In some cases, KATUSAs were limited to menial support tasks. In other cases, they learned to operate weapons; each would be paired with an American in a "buddy system."

The results were mixed, but worthy of refinement.  The Eighth Army continued to employ KATUSAs throughout the Korean War... and after.  The partnership with the U.S. Army remains in place to this day. Its administration is much refined, of course, as it develops a cadre of professional soldiers that become valuable additions to the Republic of Korea Army.

Friday, August 10, 2018

A Triple Whammy: The Newton Lantron Story

Major Newton W. Lantron, Sr. Photo courtesy of Lacy C. Barnett

At about 0930 hours on July 20, 1950, U.S. Army Major Newton W. Lantron disappeared during the Korean War’s Battle of Taejon. Army historians claim that he neither gave notice nor instructions to his staff. Lantron simply departed his command post by driving away in his jeep.

Lantron’s exit was curious, to say the least. He was the commander of the 3rd Battalion, 34th Infantry regiment (3/34), which, after only two weeks of combat in Korea, was being thoroughly routed by enemy forces. At first under the command of Lt. Col. David H. Smith, the 3/34 had already suffered formidable casualties in a delaying action at Ch’onan on July 7-8. Whereas the third battalion’s understrength rosters counted about 525 men before Ch’onan, only 175 would emerge from that engagement. Among the losses was Lt. Col. Smith, evacuated due to physical exhaustion.  This made Maj. Lantron the senior officer available in the battalion, and thus its commander.  

By July 20, the U.S. Army’s combat presence in Korea was committed to a tenuous front line defense just north and west of Taejon, South Korea. The 3/34 was an integral component of that line.  By this point, the men – and especially, most of the officers – had been functioning for days without proper sleep. This would become evident in lapses of judgment and decision-making. This situation was made worse by poor communications between command levels, a consequence of worn, broken, or otherwise unreliable radios and signal equipment drawn from World War II surplus stocks.

Regimental headquarters became aware of Lantron’s disappearance about two and a half hours later. But by that time, the headquarters staff had more pressing distractions to contend with.  A number of North Korean T-34 tanks had by then infiltrated the grid of Taejon’s streets.  Clerks, cooks, mechanics, medics and other rear echelon men all became riflemen as they encountered enemy infiltrators. Those troops not already fighting for their lives were now preparing a hasty exit, either packing up their trucks or setting fire to what they could not readily transport. In the midst of this confusion, the disappearance of a battalion commander was of no immediate concern. A 29-year-old captain, Jack Smith, was regimental command’s emergency choice to lead 3/34 after Lantron’s disappearance. 

Newt Lantron, a tall and lanky 35-year-old Alabamian by birth, joined the Army before World War II. He entered combat as a company commander with the 36th Infantry Division in Italy, only to be captured by the Germans on September 9, 1943. He was interned at Oflag 64 in Poland for the duration of the war in Europe. 

The post-war continuation of his Army service placed him by 1950 with occupation forces in Japan, and subsequently, with combat forces in Korea. The enervating crisis in Korea was only exacerbated by the U.S. Army’s unpreparedness, as it lacked reliable and effective equipment, while its men lacked sufficient spirit and physical fortitude for combat. Field-grade officers like Lantron were further stressed by their awareness of top commanders’ impossible expectations. On July 7, division commander Gen. William Dean sacked the original commander of the 34th Regiment’s Korea deployment, Jay Lovless, for an apparent lack of aggressiveness.  Lovless’ replacement, Bob Martin, lasted all of 15 hours as he, armed with an ineffective 2.36-inch bazooka, lost a duel with an enemy T-34 tank in Ch’onan. 

Now on July 20, Lantron’s orders were to hold the defensive line north of Taejon until notified to do otherwise. Lantron was in the same fix as Red Ayres, his counterpart who commanded the 34th’s first battalion.  While obediently holding his position through the previous night, Ayres, detected the ominous clatter of enemy armor and troops bypassing his position in the dark.  But without proper command communications, mission assignments were not forthcoming. Like Ayres, Lantron would have to react to rapidly evolving events on the ground around him. A lack of sleep ensured that his decisions did not always comport with sound military doctrine.  These were the circumstances that immediately preceded Lantron’s sudden departure.

The Army suffered staggering losses on 20 July. Lt. Col. Red Ayres managed an effective escape for a portion of his command, which would regroup and continue the fight later that summer along the Pusan Perimeter.  Newton Lantron, however, would not return to duty until September 1953 – three years later.

The U.S. Army would learn, several weeks after the battle in Taejon, that Lantron had evaded the enemy for two or three days before he was taken prisoner by the North Koreans. Other American prisoners would later testify as to Lantron’s heroics in saving the lives of several of his fellow captives, both on the forced march to North Korea and by his food scavenging efforts in the prisoner of war camps. 

Having endured two separate wartime internments, Lantron suffered yet again when his son, Netwon Jr., age 24, died of a brain tumor in 1964 while serving with the U.S. Army in West Germany. Newton Lantron, Sr. died in 2003 at the age of 88.

Friday, August 3, 2018

Brothers in Arms

Courtesy of the Doug Price Collection.
1953. South Korea.  U.S. Army Private Philip Thomas Hughes gave his life to protect South Korea and its inhabitants, including these little fellows.  While the identities of these children are unknown, they pose in a scene that reveals the humble, vernacular life style of mid-20th century Korea.  The wattle hut was reasonably durable, as long as someone was diligent about maintaining the thatched roof - hence the ladder leaning on the foundation. The inhabitants of this home maintained a garden with beans and other vegetables.  Its very likely that some domesticated livestock were housed with the family under the same roof. You can guess what the drainage ditch in the foreground was for. To the rear is a rice paddy.  Beyond that are hills - not only ubiquitous features of Korean topology, but also the nemeses of the many American and other United Nations soldiers who scaled these slopes to fight and die so far from home.

Friday, July 27, 2018

This is Your Korean War

A U.S. Army forward aid station in Korea, July 1950. Photo Courtesy of Mr. Lacy C. Barnett

You are a teenage American boy in 1950.  The U.S. Army welcomed you to its ranks after releasing so many World War II veterans.  Officially, the Army enlists boys as young as seventeen, but a few kids are even younger than that, thanks to recruiters’ lax scrutiny.  Someone had to staff overseas military commitments in the face of a growing Cold War.  The Army looked like a good deal when you enlisted as a high-school dropout seeking escape from a remote coal mining hamlet or a grimy industrial city.  You found a rather cushy billet in Japan, where you enjoyed three hots and a cot – and your dollar went a long way in the local economy.

But at the end of June, word came that Russian-equipped North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel to invade U.S.-backed South Korea.  Almost overnight, America would have to demonstrate its resolve with a true military commitment.  You’re with the 34th Infantry Regiment on Japan’s Kyushu Island, closest to the Korean Peninsula.  So you are the among the first troops to go. The Army prepares you as best it can with weapons, equipment, and food drawn from storage warehouses crammed with leftovers from World War II.  You are issued a rifle with a tag affixed to it that reads “Combat Unserviceable.” 


You quickly find that Korea is inhospitable in many ways. Before you even meet the enemy, you contend with climate extremes, insects, malodorous rice paddies, and those hills… one steep and scrubby hill after another. The highest hills must be scaled to deny them from the enemy. That enemy is no push-over. He is physically conditioned to dash up these slopes.  You and your colleagues are not. You rely on trucks for mobility and supplies. Many enemy formations advance on foot. Others drive Russian tanks. They work together to outflank, divide, and encircle you, pressing attacks on your units that are cut off.  You have tanks, but they are too late, too few, and no match for those of the enemy.

You are outnumbered from day-one. Your leadership – all the way up to General of the Army Douglas MacArthur, know this. While it’s not explicitly stated, the job of the first Americans sent to Korea is not to defeat the enemy, but merely to slow him down until reinforcements can be shipped over from the States.  So you hold a hill or a crossroads as long as you can, pulling back only as your encirclement is imminent.  It’s a thankless task, one for which there is little or no direction in the Army manuals. We call it “bugging out.” It is a routine that some clever truck drivers have memorialized in a song, “Bug-Out Boogie.”  The dark humor of its lyrics is a bulwark against the madness that engulfs you. 

You really want to go back to Japan.  Or just get out of Korea. 

The last thing you want is to become immobilized on the front line as the enemy is bearing down on your position.  Even before you were wounded, you were exhausted. Your head throbbed from heat stroke. Your bowels were knotted by dysentery that you contracted by drinking water from the rice paddies, because dammit – it was the only water available.  Now you are immobilized on a stretcher. You smoke a cigarette, in part because the smoke wards away flies that want to crawl up your nostrils.

You anticipate only the next step in your deliverance. A hospital? To the Japanese girlfriend you left in Sasebo? Or maybe even… home.  If you are lucky, the boys from your squad hoist you to an aid station just behind the line. There, a combat doctor stabilizes your wounds so that corpsmen can stack you and four or five other guys in a Dodge ambulance that rumbles back to the nearest Korean rail depot.  Hopefully, you would not have to wait too long to be loaded on one of those old wooden train coaches that will lurch southward between the hills on its way to the port of Pusan – the filthy city that has now become the beloved exit from Korea and all its attendant nightmares. 

Friday, July 20, 2018

Private First Class Maurice Francis O'Kain

The O'Kains struggled to start a family. Joe, a Pittsburgh electrician, and wife Irma suffered the loss of two infant daughters in the early 1920s. They finally welcomed four sons to the family.  Following the example of their father, who was a veteran of the First World War, three of these boys would seek opportunity in the military. The youngest son, Maurice, and the next oldest, Robert, went to Korea with the U.S. Army.

Only Robert would return home alive.

September 10, 1950. Having already completed two years of his enlistment, 20-year-old Maurice was assigned to the 19th Infantry Regiment during the darkest days of the Korean War.  Along with Pvt. Philip Hughes and the other riflemen of K Company, Maurice attempted to hold a lonely portion of the Pusan Perimeter known as Hill 300.  It was there, during a hellish nighttime battle, fought in the rain, that Maurice was killed in action. His remains eventually came back to be interred in his home town on Monday, September 3, 1951.

The O'Kains - infant daughters included - rest together now in the Christ Our Redeemer Catholic Cemetery.  Robert was the last to join them in 2016.

Friday, July 13, 2018

The Vocation of Herman Felhoelter

Lt. Herman G. Felhoelter, 1913-1950.

July 16, 1950. Just north of Taejon, South Korea.  It was the day before Lieutenant Herman G. Felhoelter’s 37th birthday. But now, 11 days since he set foot in Korea with the U.S. Army, this Catholic chaplain knew he was in a tight spot. He was attached to the 19th Infantry Regiment, dug in along the Kum River to resist the onslaught of numerically superior North Korean forces approaching Taejon and its crucial railyard.  

The 19th had taken a lot of casualties.  The lucky ones were shuttled by ambulances down to the train station in Taejon.  But there were too many stretcher cases - men immobilized by wounds – and not enough ambulances. The North Koreans outflanked and gradually encircled the forward aid station where Lt. Felhoelter assisted medics with the living. When necessary, the Louisville, Kentucky native administered last rites for the dead.

Herman Felthoelter’s military vocation was rare in 1950. Just five years earlier, at the end of World War II, the U.S. Army boasted over 8,000 chaplains among its ranks. Demobilization during the late 1940s rapidly diminished those numbers.  At the end of 1947, just over 1,100 chaplains remained, and almost half of those would be transferred to the newly-established U.S. Air Force.  By June 1950, the Army had no more than 706 chaplains on active duty.

The unfavorable tactical situation was obvious to Felhoelter and Captain Linton Buttrey, the regimental medical officer staffing the aid station.  Korea was unbearably hot in July, the kind of conditions that precipitated heat stroke.  Supplies, and especially water, were nearly exhausted. They regiment had already functioned for days with little or no sleep. By noon, the men of the aid station knew their position was surrounded. The only road-bound path for escape was cut off by a North Korean roadblock. The only chance for the 100 or so able-bodied Americans was to escape on foot, through the hills.  Their biggest problem was the disposition of 30 litter cases.  They would have to be carried out by hand.

The group set out by about 1:00 in the afternoon. Following orders, the able-bodied carried stretcher cases with them. They moved in scattered teams in the direction of a pre-determined rallying point on a distant hill.  But soon, the hot sun challenged the endurance of these men.  As a result of cruel calculus, the litter cases were gathered for abandonment on an intermediate rise.  There were pleas, shouts, and tears. And there were choices that would haunt the survivors for the rest of their lives.

Lt. Felhoelter and Capt. Buttrey remained with the immobilized wounded.  But in short order, their position was approached by a North Korean patrol.  While Felhoelter was dressed in army fatigues, he wore an armband with a large, white Latin cross that identified him as a chaplain.  Buttrey, a 43-year-old Tennessean, wore a simillar brassard with the red cross of a medical professional.  Under international law, both men were non-combatants, and they carried no weapons.

The North Korean patrol that approached them consisted of boys in their early teens.  It’s very likely that they had little training.  They were probably unaware of international conventions regarding the conduct of warfare. However, several of them were armed with Russian-made PPSh-41 burp guns. Spoting the oncoming patrol, the American chaplain and doctor made a quick agreement: Buttrey would dash forward to retrieve help, if possible.  Felhoelter would stay with the wounded. The enemy nicked Buttrey, but he otherwise made a good escape.

From the rallying point atop the hill, the Americans overlooking Felhoelter’s position could see everything unfold. Felhoelter knelt to pray over the wounded.  In the final analysis, this was all – or rather everything – he could do. The distant Americans then watched in horror as the young North Koreans shot the wounded at point-blank range, as well as the priest who cared for them. The enemy, who probably anticipated the retaliation of artillery, then withdrew from the position as quickly as they had taken it. 

The remains of Herman Felhoelter, and those of many of the wounded men, would be collected the following September after the Americans finally regained these positions. Most would eventually be shipped back home for final interment on U.S. soil.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Love the One You're With

c. 1952. Okinawa(?) A young U.S. Army private poses with a charming companion.  Thousands of liaisons were forged between U.S. servicemen and young women in Japan and its territories during the Korean War.  The quality of such relationships varied greatly:  at one extreme were prostitutes (i.e., panpan sanctioned by the host government in Japan); at the other were life-long marriages, a few of which endure to this day for couples now in their nineties.  During the Korean War, the fidelity of most relationships was similar to the example of modern campus co-eds who might endure for a semester.  Most soldiers serving in Korea managed to pass through Japan, where it didn't take long at all to "hook up" with a willing female companion. Many young men, like Pvt. Philip Hughes, requested (and paid for) a girlfriend photo, which he carried off to war, carefully tucked in a wallet or a helmet liner.  Those servicemen opting for marriage faced hurdles. At the time, U.S. State Department policies (not to mention social customs of the day) discouraged marriages of disparate ethnicities.  Nonetheless, perseverance fueled by love won the day.  A stroll through Arlington National Cemetery reveals countless headstones of deceased servicemen buried along with wives bearing given names that are unmistakably Japanese.    

Friday, June 29, 2018

Col. Robert Martin Duels with a Tank

Col. Robert R. Martin. Photo courtesy of Lacy C. Barnett

It was early on July 6, 1950. Like so many other Eighth Army staff officers headquartered in Japan, Col. Robert Reinhold Martin (1902-1950) was cast headlong into the sudden melee of the Korean War’s opening days.  Col. Martin flew to Pusan from Japan, and subsequently made his way to 24th Infantry Division HQ in Taejon.

Col. Martin was hand-picked by General William F. Dean, commander of the 24th.  Martin served impressively as a regimental commander under Dean with the 44th Division in Europe during World War II.  Now with a new war in Korea, Dean fretted over the poor performance of his command.  Dean figured that Martin would bring a partial remedy in the form of effective leadership.  After 34th Regiment’s humiliation in combat on July 6, Dean had the pretense to sack its commander, Jay Lovless.  Col. Martin would take his place.

Bob Martin’s introduction to Korea was so fast that he had no time to pack combat gear.  He was still dressed in a class A (dress) uniform when he arrived at Lovless’s command post.

Emboldened by victories on July 5 and 6, the North Korean People’s Army bore down on Ch’onan, where the U.S. 34th Regiment was regrouping.  Tanks spearheaded their advance. In turn, American troops were making a hasty retreat from positions north of Ch’onan.  One of Col. Martin’s first tasks was to lead a headquarters patrol north to collect key weapons and other assets discarded by retreating troops. By the evening of the 7th, Ch’onan was under siege, with white phosphorous shells illuminating the night sky over the town. Battle flowed into the next morning, when Martin witnessed the beginning of a panicked rout of his troops.  The 1924 Purdue University graduate knew that effective leaders personally demonstrated the behavior that they expected from their subordinates; he would have to personally take up a weapon and lead from the front.

At 8:00 in the morning of July 8, there in the middle of Ch’onan, Col. Martin armed himself with a 2.36-inch rocket launcher.  This device was already known for its inferior performance against German armor during the last war; it fared no better against the North Korean’s Russian-built T-34 tanks.  But no matter, Martin needed to rally the men in his command. He collared Sgt. Jerry C. Christensen, a headquarters operations coordinator.  Christensen would serve as loader to assist Martin’s actions as gunner.

Neither man was adequately trained in using the weapon. As he fumbled with the launcher, an enemy tank began bearing down on Bob Martin’s position. The duel was over in an instant, as the tank fired its cannon directly at Martin, cutting him in two. The blast knocked one of Christensen’s eyes out of its socket; he struggled to replace it with his bare hands before retreating for cover.
On July 11, the U.S. Army’s Far East Command posthumously awarded Bob Martin the first Distinguished Service Cross of the Korean War.  His remains were not recovered.                

Friday, June 22, 2018

Lacy C. Barnett: History's Witness

The following was provided by Lacy C. Barnett, age 91 - alive, well, and corresponding via email.  Mr. Barnett was a 23-year-old U.S. Army corporal in July 1950 who, along with Pvt. Philip Hughes, was among the very first American soldiers sent to Korea. Photos courtesy of Mr. Barnett.

The U.S. Army’s ranks in the late 1940s contained a lot of teenagers, especially in post-war Japan. Too young to have served in World War II, many of these boys had older brothers or fathers who did.  These boys were often high school dropouts from humble circumstances worsened by the Great Depression. For many, the post-war Army offered structure and security that their families could not. I was one of those boys.

 “The Battle of Turkey Thicket,” by Christopher Russell, follows the story of another of these teenagers, Philip Thomas Hughes of Washington, D.C.  The reader does not get to know much about Philip, but instead gets to see what Philip sees as he uses the Army to escape a disintegrating family life.  By following Philip’s adventures in Japan and Korea, this true story effectively gives voice to the many boys who sacrificed their lives in a war that is now relegated to an obscure corner of American history.

Traditional history books provide the “big picture” story of conflict between nations and the choices made by their leaders.  “The Battle of Turkey Thicket” follows the opening phases of the Korean War from the view of an individual soldier. These pages reminded me of the chaos of those days: the first alert of our deployment from Sasebo at 0100 hours, 1 July 1950; steaming to Korea aboard the Takasago Maru on 2 July; the six-mile hike from the dock in Pusan to Camp Hialeah; and the train ride to front. We used equipment, uniforms, and even food left over from World War II. Unprecedented stress on the Army’s logistics created episodes where the only meals available to men in combat was baby food diverted from commissaries in Japan. 

We engaged not only enemy forces, but the discomforts of a swampy climate in an impoverished nation. We endured heat, insects, and water supplies tainted by human excrement used by the locals as fertilizer.  The countryside smelled foul, and within a matter of hours, so did we. As the North Koreans overran our positions one after another, our trucks weaved through masses of southbound refugees who travelled by foot. We shared unpaved roads that were maddeningly susceptible to either dust or mud. 

Our beloved 34th Regiment was deactivated on 1 Sep 1950 due to heavy losses. Both Philip Hughes and I were among the regiment’s 184 survivors (out of 1,981). We were then reassigned to the 3rd Battalion, 19th Infantry Regiment. 

Philip was an infantryman with K Company of the 19th. That company took a lot of casualties between 8-12 September in engagements on Hill 300.  After surviving the fearsome days of July and August, Philip made the ultimate sacrifice on 12 September 1950.  At that time, I was a member of the medical platoon supporting Philip’s battalion.

Part of my duties were to identify the remains of our boys for subsequent handling by graves registration.  It is very possible that Philip Hughes was among the remains I handled.  Unfortunately, I don't have photographic memory, but I distinctly remember one man brought to our aid station there who was still gasping for breath. Our doctor worked on him, but to no avail. The doctor turned and ordered us to place his remains under a tree.  The man, clinically dead, continued to gasp every 30 seconds or so. For us young medics who had already seen so much, this was still alarming to watch.  Was this Philip Hughes?  We’ll never know for sure.

Devine intention so often distills good from the ills of life. It is my firm belief that without God in heaven looking over and caring for me, I would not be available to relate these thoughts in 2018. Had it not been for my deployment to Japan, I would not have met Alice in April 1949. By early 1950, we were engaged.  I was a 23-year-old kid form the Appalachian foothills of Alabama. She was a 24-year-old clerk-interpreter, the daughter of a Japanese mother and French father.  While not strictly forbidding such unions in those days, U.S. visa laws plus the Army’s deliberate bureaucracy imposed many hurdles intended largely to defeat all but the most determined of couples. Our relief came with U.S. Congressional action in 1951.

After raising two children who themselves are now entering retirement, Alice and I recently celebrated 68 years of marriage. 

Can anyone argue that God in heaven has not watched over me?

Friday, June 15, 2018

Once Upon a Time: Comrades Lost in Korea

May 1950. Sasebo, Southern Japan.  From left: Cpl. James R. Williams, age 23, Santo, TX; 
SFC. Daniel J. Cavanaugh, age 29, Groton CT; Cpl. Russell D. Talley, age 32, Mexia, TX; 
and Cpl. Lacy C. Barnett, age 23, Empire, AL.
Although they did not know it at the time, these four young American soldiers were just weeks away from life-altering events.  An early death awaited two of them.  But in June 2018, one of them is alive and well, busily compiling a written commentary on the U.S. Army’s involvement in the opening weeks of the Korean War. More about him will follow below.

Several hundred thousand soldiers of the U.S. Eighth Army were tasked with the post-World War II occupation of the Japanese home islands. Budget austerity ensured that Army resources were optimized either for occupation duties or for war.  It could not excel at both.  

This was an idyllic garrison for young Americans in early 1950. The impoverished Japanese population welcomed these soldiers – or more specifically – welcomed their disposable income.  As members of the U.S. Army’s 34th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division, these four men were assigned to the regiment’s medical company. Based in the southern Japanese port of Sasebo, they were ten miles from the regiment’s home base at Camp Mower.

They served as medics, albeit with varying specialties such as “surgical technician” or “corpsman.” The medics’ duties included clinical support to doctors tending a litany of mundane peacetime ailments and injuries. Perhaps the most frequently encountered maladies were sexually transmitted diseases. These were sufficiently endemic to hamper the Army’s overall mission.

The sudden onset of the Korean War on June 25, 1950 would change everything for these men.  By July 5, these medics were among the 1,981 members of the 34th Infantry Regiment sent to the front lines of a “police action” to defend South Korea.  As a whole, the U.S. Eighth Army was understaffed and deficient in combat training, weaponry, and supplies. Many infantrymen entered combat with rifles that were tagged “combat unserviceable.”  

The Americans were shocked to discover that they were outmatched by the more numerous and aggressive North Korean People’s Army. The American combat strategy during the opening weeks of that war was to stall the invaders as best they could, trading land and lives for the time required to deliver additional troops and resources from the mainland U.S.

The role of a medical company was radically transformed by combat.  The corpsmen provided immediate treatment to wounded soldiers on the battlefield – and often under enemy fire. Others worked in aid stations just behind the lines, performing the initial triage of men awaiting medical remedy. Stated differently, the medical staff attended to the ghastly wounds of war, attempting to save lives, reduce potential disabilities, or shorten the wounded man’s rehabilitation times.  Per physicians’ direction, medical corpsmen carried out excruciating decisions about if, when, and how and they would treat each wounded soldier. A shortage of time, space, and supplies too often prevented or compromised the quality of care that wounded men deserved. 

The July 20 battle for the communications junction city of Taejon tragically exposed the weakness of American forces committed to the earliest days of the Korean War. After penetrating the Americans’ porous defense on the outskirts of Taejon, North Korean troops effectively infiltrated and surrounded the city. The better part of 5,000 Americans – mostly non-combatant, rear echelon troops such as medical company personnel – would have to fight their way out through Taejon’s gridwork of streets. The four medics pictured here had mixed success in escaping Taejon.  Cpl. Williams was killed in an ambush. Sgt. Talley died as the result of a truck crash after enemy marksmen killed his driver.

Both Dan Cavanaugh and Lacy Barnett survived the Korean War. They would go on to enjoy what their colleagues could not: careers, families, and time to reflect. Both men watched the American cultural landscape change over the following decades.  They saw how America changed its attitude toward soldiers, alternately reviling then embracing veterans of the Vietnam War, followed by the vacant platitudes offered to the Iraq-Afghanistan vets. But what of their old colleagues from Korea?  History would make scant record of them unless veterans themselves took the initiative.

From the mid 1980s onward, Dan and Lacy took that initiative.  Not satisfied with the official histories promulgated by the U.S. Army, they joined forces with other Korean War vets to assemble a gritty truth from a disparate collection of archival records and personal recollections.  Theirs was a race against time as the years began to take their toll.  Dan Cavanaugh passed in 1997.  Today, at age 91, Lacy Barnett is one of a handful of survivors who can provide first-hand knowledge of the chaotic days of July 1950. His vigorous research of official records has uncovered numerous permanent facts that have yet to be published. The omission of such facts from official histories, he asserts, could not have been accidental. Mr. Barnett promises that a publication, “Criminal Deployment of U.S. Forces to Korea in July 1950,” is forthcoming.