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. 


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