Thursday, April 25, 2019

Here He is: Master Sergeant Clarence "Gypsy" Martin

Photo courtesy of Governor C. Joy
The great thing about memorializing historic figures in this blog is connecting with their survivors.  Accordingly, we proudly present a geniune photo of MSGT Clarence "Gypsy" Martin of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania. This image was taken at the end of World War II, when he was still a private, albeit highly decorated. He would later serve in Korea, where he made the ultimate sacrifice on April 25, 1951.  MSGT Martin was a remarkable personality on top of being a valiant soldier.  In fact, his family seeks for him a posthumous award of the Congressional Medal of Honor.  Check out his story here in this blog.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Street Rails in Pusan

Early 1950s, Pusan, Korea.  When PVT Philip Hughes arrived in Korea with a boatload of nearly 2,000 Amreican troops in July 1950, he disembarked at the port of Pusan.  From there, the first order of business for him and his colleagues was to march to a rail station where they would catch a series of trains that took them to the front lines of the Korean War. Pusan (or today, "Busan") was then a dirty, crowded  city that had yet to recover from a generation of Japanese occupation and exploitation. 

Prior to the outbreak of the Korean War, during the late 1940s, a few initial rounds of foreign aid had been injected into the Korean economy.  This included the reciept of second-hand streetcars, pulled from the fleet maintained by Georgia Power in Atlanta.  Among Philip's colleagues were certainly some boys from Atlanta, all of whom would have been surprised - if not nostalgic - to encounter the familiar vehicles as they marched through Pusan.  These cars served through the Korean War and later, until about 1968. A couple examples were preserved as museum pieces.

Friday, April 12, 2019

Holding the Line

Truman Library Photo
Summer 1950.  Korea.  A squad of U.S. Army troops occupy a machine gun nest overlooking the Naktong River.  This position was one of the pitifully few emplacements that attempted to serve as a defensive line.  To their front, across the Naktong, is rugged countryside that masks the advance of North Korean troops. To the rear of the Americans, too little land remains to effect a withdrawal.  In other words, this is a fight-or-die position.

A pontoon bridge remains extant in the background of this image, but it was due to be dismantled or destroyed before the enemy could put it to use. Regardless, the river would slow, rather than stop, the enemy advance.  The U.S.  24th Infantry Division would remain embattled on the Naktong front until mid September, when the allied Inchon Invasion initiated a rout of the enemy back to North Korea. 

Friday, April 5, 2019

The Tale of Olen Sikes

U.S. Army Photo

Summer 1950, Korea.  This image can't be shown too many times.  These U.S. Army soldiers are newly removed from occupation duty in Japan, fighting and dying in the opening days of the Korean War.  A witness to too many scenes like this is Korean War veteran Lacy Barnett, now age 91.  As a 23-year-old corporal from Alabama, Lacy was deployed to Korea along with PVT Philip Hughes and the rest of 34th Infantry Regiment in early July 1950.  Lacy was a medic with the 34th's medical company.  The following narrative is his recollection of Olen Sikes, a medic; these are Lacy's words.  I am grateful to him for this.


One of our rifle company medical corpsman, a WWII veteran, Olen Sikes, from Oklahoma, received a direct hit from a North Korean small mortar round, killing him instantly. Olen was 30 (ed. note: other records describe Sikes as being 25 years old at the time of his death), not married, but certainly was survived by a family. He was a highly respected surgical technician prior to the Korean War.

He and I served in the same unit in Japan prior to our arrival in Korea on July 2, 1950 as the first full regiment to be "criminally" deployed to Korea merely one week after the start of the war. We processed Olen's remains and turned them over to the Graves Registration people for temporary burial at a cemetery at Miryang. Our First Sergeant, Hershel Anderson, from Texas, 36 years of age, had been seriously wounded in WWII and almost lost an arm. Andy "grieved" whenever a medic was killed, wounded, or missing in action. Olen was killed on August 11, and Andy found out that the burial would be at Miryang on August 12.

Late on August 11, SGT Anderson instructed me to travel on August 12 to Miryang by jeep to witness the burial, and to make certain that Olen's remains were handled in a proper and respectful manner. As ordered, I proceeded to Miryang. Upon arrival at the cemetery, I simply could not believe my eyes. There were 200 to 300 set of remains in body bags. I found out exactly where Olen's remains were, and witnessed his remains being buried in a long trench. The handling and the ceremonies were the best possible, under the circumstances. My good report back to SGT Anderson made him extremely happy. Olen's remains were returned to his family in Oklahoma for final burial in 1951.

The memory that I retain today of that event 65 years ago, is just as vivid as though it happened yesterday. To witness 200-300 men, in body bags covered with 6 feet of soil, "laid to rest" in a foreign country is "attention getting." If some of our "leaders" could witness such an event, maybe there would be more hesitancy to send our men/women to engage in combat in a foreign country.