Friday, March 15, 2019

Charles Stevenson's Second - and Last - Hitch

Charles E. Stevenson survived World War I trench warfare in France. He was not unscathed, however.  He was subjected to a gas attack that caused chronic respiratory damage. During the next twelve years of his life, he managed to return home to Washington, DC where he got married and settled down with his wife Marie. They would have two sons: William, born in 1923, and Charles Leroy, born the next year. Still, the elder Charles' ailment became fatal in 1930. He was laid to rest in Arlington National Cemetery. Widow Marie subsequently welcomed her mother into her home at 224 Emerson Street, N.W. Washington; the mother would help with the boys as they grew up in this quiet residential neighborhood.

Charles, Jr. graduated from high school in 1942, just as World War II was ramping up. As so many other young men did, Charles joined the U.S. Army.  He wound up in Europe, participating in the late battles of Spring 1945, just prior to Germany's surrender. Immediately after the end of European hostilities, his division was sent to the Philippines in anticipation of further battles that were rendered unnecessary by Japan's capitulation.  Charles came home and enrolled in George Washington University.

College pursuits apparently did not satisfy Charles' needs.  During the late 1940s, he would re-enlist for a second hitch in the Army. He may have been motivated by a sense of duty to his father.  Preparing to ship out once more for overseas duty, Charles assured his mother that nothing would happen, as the war was over.  But should he somehow come to grief, Charles added, he asked his mother that ensure that he be buried near his father at Arlington. Charles then went to Tokyo, where he joined the U.S. occupation forces.  He worked in the intelligence section of General Douglas MacArthur's headquarters, located  in Tokyo's Dai-ichi Life Insurance building.

This was Charles Leroy Stevenon's situation when the Korean War began on June 25, 1950.  Within days, U.S. Eighth Army troops began shipping out of Japan and over to Korea. These Americans fared so poorly against North Korean forces that the Army began to replenish its combat losses with replacements rounded up from various rear echelon duties. As each July day passed by, the Army would convert more of these apprehensive clerks, cooks, mechanics and other specialists into riflemen and rush them over to Korea.  Finally, on July 13, Charles wrote to his mother that he too had been reassigned to Korea.

Charles undoubtedly found the transition difficult.  Now carrying the rank of sergeant and taken away from his desk job, Charles was expected to become a squad leader in the 34th Infantry Regiment, located then along the front lines just above Taejon. Charles had only hours to re-acquaint himself with weapons while getting to know the men under his command. Among the existing ranks of the 34th was PVT Philip Hughes, also of Washington, DC.  We have no way of knowing if the two ever met while in Korea. 

The advancing North Koreans bettered the Americans in numbers, weaponry, and determination.  A disastrous pre-dawn clash along the Kapch'on River on July 20, followed by the subsequent fall of Taejon, sent the U.S. Army into an embarrassing rout.  Philip Hughes was counted among the survivors of this particular engagement; Charles Stevenson was not. Only in November of 1950 did Marie Stevenson in Washington, DC learn that her son was missing in action.

Marie and her mother were already making volunteer service visits to Washington's Walter Reed Army Hospital, which was bustling now with wounded troops from Korea. She remained hopeful. After all, the Inchon invasion on September 15, 1950 effectively reversed the fortunes of American and allied forces in Korea. News of U.S. Army advances may have eased her worries about her missing son. With the Christmas holiday approaching, Marie purchased an automobile to present to Charles upon his return. She had it parked in front of her home on Emerson Street. 

Marie's good intentions were not rewarded.  The remains of Charles Leroy Stevenson were found in December of 1950 where he fell the previous July along with many other Americans lost in the defense of Taejon.  The Army's mortuary affairs eventually returned SGT Stevenson to Washington, where he was laid to rest in Arlington, just across the lane from his father. Marie joined them in 1985.  PVT Philip Hughes went on to fight in other engagements before his luck ran out in September 1950.  He too is buried at Arlington. 


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