Friday, March 30, 2018

...about the curious journeys of Philip Hughes

Available on
The Battle of Turkey Thicket is the true story of Philip Thomas Hughes, an orphan who sought to escape the comfortable monotony of a mid 20th century life. In recounting Philip’s journeys, we witness the civic evolution of Washington, D.C., Chicago’s Skid Row, romance amidst Japan’s post-World War II reconstruction, and the chaotic battlefields of the Korean War.
At the same time, the story of Philip and his family is one of spiritual faith that was formed, challenged, and reconstituted through sacrifice.

Researched and written by Christopher Russell for Baritone Books, The Battle of Turkey Thicket reveals the history behind a forgotten memorial, while rescuing the story of Philip Thomas Hughes – and his journeys – from oblivion. Available now on Amazon.

"I wish everyone would read this book. The Korean War is largely forgotten in the United States, although Korea is so much in the news these days. The soldiers who fell in that war are a minor footnote to history for many people. But their lives matter and we should understand their sacrifice."A.G. Moore, Midwest Book Review, August 2017.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Jeep Convoy

Summer 1950.  Korea. This image by Life Magazine's Carl Mydans has been captioned elsewhere as depicting troops from the 1st Cavalry Division.  Perhaps that is correct, but the unit affiliation stenciled on the bumper of the jeep to the center right suggests otherwise. Close examination shows "24-34-1" which implies 24th Division, 34th Regiment, 1st Battalion.  The rest of the bumper inscription (on the driver's side) is unintelligible, but it may read "HQ" for headquarters company.  If so, this could be the I&R (intelligence and reconnaissance) platoon of Headquarters company, since I&R units operated a fleet of jeeps like this.

Pvt. Philip Hughes's B Company was a component of 24/34/1.  If Philip passed through this stretch, he probably did so riding in the back of a GMC two-and-a-half ton cargo truck.

Friday, March 16, 2018

Sergeant Homer Jesse Sprankle

On Tuesday, August 1, 1950, Homer "Jesse" Sprankle could finally take a breather.  Like all the other American soldiers tossed into the opening days of the Korean War, Jesse was by now hungry and debilitated by dysentery.  He wrote home on this day to his brother Harry, back in Punxsatawney, Pennsylvania. Jesse pleaded for a box of food. Anything but those five-year-old C-rations. Harry, a veteran of the Second World War, appreciated his little brother's predicament.

Just the day before, Jesse, Pvt. Philip Hughes, and the rest of the U.S. Army's 1st Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment withdrew from contact with superior numbers of North Korean Peoples Army troops approaching Kwanbin-ni, just west of the Naktong River. The American unit lost a few more lives in the process. The men now awaited their turn to hop one of the deuce-and-a-half cargo trucks for a lift across the Naktong River. Here, they would form one last line of resistance against the encroaching NKPA. Per order of General Walton H. Walker, there would be no more retreat from this line. 

Jesse was age 18. His life was already unsettled due to the dissolution of his parent's marriage. Jesse fled Punxsutawney in 1946 after he was caught having sex with his girlfriend. At this point, he lied about his age to enlist in the Army. Jesse never learned that his girlfriend became pregnant, and that she put their son up for adoption.

All that was in the past.  Jesse was making history as he and his colleagues prepared a last-ditch defense of South Korea from a part of the battlefield now known as the "Naktong Bulge."  Just one week later, on August 8, Jesse was part of a contingent detached from the 34th Regiment's Company B to give protection to a battery of artillerymen imminently threatened by NKPA encroachment.  The riflemen got there too late; the artillery unit had already begun to withdraw under fire.  Surviving artillerymen merged with the assisting infantry to effect an armed retreat. It was in this action that Jesse Sprankle was killed.

Back in Pennsylvania, Jesse's brother Harry promptly mailed a package of edibles as soon as he got Jesse's letter.  We don't know if the package was returned to the sender, or if Jesse's colleagues got to enjoy the contents.

Friday, March 9, 2018

South Korean Civilians

September 1950. Chinhae (now Jinhae), South Korea. Chinhae is on South Korea's southern coast, about 25 miles west - as the crow flies - of the port of Pusan (Busan).  This site represented the southernmost extent of the Pusan Perimeter, behind which U.N. forces made their last-ditch stand against encroaching North Korean Peoples Army. Korean civilians - mostly women and children - are seen here working with hand tools to repair a segment of road that has undoubtedly been pounded by military traffic. They may be locals from Chinhae, or refugees from someplace north, displaced by the invading NKPA. Language barriers not withstanding, a U.S. Army engineer has solicited these citizens' labor, probably in return for bags of rice. Note the Japanese truck to the far right. The viewer is left to admire the dignity of these long-suffering people. It is for the freedom of these individuals that Pvt. Philip Hughes made the ultimate sacrifice on September 12, 1950, in the shadow of Hill 300, north of Kyongju. Photo from the U.S. Army 8035 Signal Unit, courtesy of the great and growing photo collection of Doug Price.

Friday, March 2, 2018

The M24 Chaffee

August 17, 1950. Pusan Perimeter, Korea.  The first American forces rushed to Korea in July 1950 encountered a tenacious foe in the form of the Soviet-built T-34 tank.  To counter this, the Americans initially had only the M24 Chaffee light tank.  Designed as a scout vehicle rather than a main battle tank, it was too light and under-gunned to effectively combat the T-34.  At best, a little M24 could harass a T-34 then run for cover.

Why was the M24 deployed?  It was the only tank available to the occupation forces in Japan at the time.  The Eighth Army's Table of Organization required medium battle tanks (on paper, at least).  In reality, occupation units employed the M24 as a matter of expediency: Japan's bridges and related transport infrastructure could not bear the weight of the heavier M4 Sherman, much less the M26 Pershing.

Appearing at the front just in time to participate in the Kum River Line defense (July 12), the M24's vulnerabilities quickly became evident. One encounter records an exchange between an infantry sergeant and an M24 commander.  Upon detection of encroaching North Korean T-34s, the M24 commander prepared to reverse away from the impending clash.  "He has an unfair advantage because of his heavier armor," the tank commander said to the sergeant. The disgusted and astonished sergeant pointed to the ragged foot-soldiers of his squad and replied, "how do you think OUR armor compares?"

Private Philip Hughes's unit received limited tank support from M24s during the Battle of Naktong Bulge during the second and third weeks of August 1950.