Saturday, August 31, 2019

Happy Birthday, Philip Thomas Hughes

August 31, 2019.  Today is Philip Hughes' eighty-seventh birthday.  Or at least that's how old he would be had he lived this long.  Philip was killed in Korea when his recon patrol was ambushed on September 12, 1950, not two weeks after his 18th birthday.  Philip was one of the first - and one of the youngest - of the American soldiers committed to the Korean War.

His remains were repatriated and interred in Arlington National Cemetery.  A small memorial plaque bearing his name can be found in a Catholic church just a block from the same Delaware beach where he played as a kid.

Happy birthday, Philip.  Peace be with you.

Friday, August 23, 2019

Korean War Brides

It seems counterintuitive, but war inexorably fosters hints of love in its wake. Twentieth century America propagated cross-national (and often trans-racial) marital unions in unprecedented numbers as a result of its many military engagements across the globe.  Korea alone has by one estimate provided over 100,000 brides for American military personnel since 1945.  In most cases, the  partners endured the admonitions of family, institutional authorities, and prevailing societal norms.  Many of these unions testify to the power of love; in others, it may reveal the lengths to which people go to escape desperate circumstances.

While the "war bride" phenomenon was not uniquely American, if figures that America - which by 1950 stood above all other nations in terms of strength and stature - should foster so many of these unions. One consequence was a reckoning forced on the nation's collective conscience.  After all, the America of 1950 had emerged victorious from a global war with fascism, only to renew the struggle with its own shortcomings, notably the inability to reconcile the promise of freedom with equality among its own populace.  It was into this maw of dissonance that Korean War brides attempted to make new homes in the cities, towns, hamlets, and farms of America.

The choice of marriage was often impulsive, driven by the anxieties that come with being young,  lonely, and afraid. American servicemen had to secure a commanding officer's approval to simply apply for a marriage certificate.  The paperwork - stacked an inch and a half thick - was intentionally made demanding for the typical enlisted man.

The volume of Korean brides arriving on American soil posed legal quandries. Anti-miscegenation laws still prevailed in many states.  The demand for dispensation in the form of waivers was the beginning of the end of such laws. But by the time they cleared the hurdles of institutional racism,  these women were at the mercy of their individual circumstances as they settled into their new homes.  Their experiences were mixed; some brides were luckier than others. Divorce, abuse, and abandonment took a tragic toll.  But there were many other women who through perseverence and wit became successful not only as home-makers, but also as business and civic leaders.  All of them can recount their stories with some mixture of tears and laughter.

Friday, August 16, 2019

Ed "Buster" Morrison: The Homecoming

Wed., August 14, 2019. U.S. Army Honor Guard carries the casket of Edward Marshall "Buster" Morrison to a hearse that will transport him to his final resting place in Ashland, Wisconsin.
After an almost 70 year wait, Ed "Buster" Morrison came home to Ashland, Wisconsin on August 14, 2019. As a 19-year-old on occupation duty in Japan, Buster was one of the first U.S. soldiers sent to Korea in July 1950. He deployed with the first platoon of Baker Company, First Battalion, 34th Infantry Regiment of the 24th Infantry Division.
Edward Marshall "Buster" Morrison, 1931-1950.

PVT Morrison was in the same unit as PVT Philip Hughes.  Their first battle - which would also be Buster's last - was at Pyongtaek on July 6.    

Richard C. White, an old Korean War veteran from California, knew Buster. In 1998, Richard left a brief memoir on  He recalled a trio of friends from their relatively care-free occupation duty in Japan.  "We were always together in Sasebo," Richard wrote about himself, Buster, and Billy Lee Barnett from West Virginia. Barnett and White were among the very few men originally deployed by the 34th Regiment to survive the war. 

We can now update Buster's story.  Richard White wrote that Buster was in the foxhole next to him on that hillside east of the road down which North Korean infantry and tanks advanced from Suwon toward Pyongtaek.  Buster "died fighting" and "never showed fear."  The overmatched 34th IR withdrew from the hill, leaving one dead and losing several to captivity by the North Koreans.

The Army retook the position in September 1950. Graves registration teams would recover bodies over the following months. Their discoveries included a mass grave, where remains were probably interred by civilians.  Many of these remains were comingled and unidentifiable.  The unidentified were buried as unknowns in the National Cemetery in Hawaii, known colloquially as the "Punchbowl."

The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency has since employed advanced forensic techniques to identify the unknown.  And so in April 2018, unknown X-900  was disinterred.  On May 31, 2019 - the traditional date for Memorial Day - X-900 was positively identified as PVT Edward Marshall "Buster" Morrison.

Buster's final interment was set for Saturday, August 17, 2019 at the Mt. Hope Cemetery in Ashland.

Friday, August 9, 2019

Foot Soldiering in Korea

Youtube Screen Grab

Summer 1950. U.S. Army troops on the move in Korea.  Trucks couldn't go every where on the Korean landscape, and they were not always available. All to often, American troops moved toward their objectives on foot.

Saturday, August 3, 2019

Harold "Red" Ayres and His Battalion's Stand at Taejon, Korea, 1950

The following is adapted from the published book, The Battle of Turkey Thicket, ISBN-13: 978-0999098325

Only two weeks into its deployment in Korea on July 2, the U.S. Army’s 34th Infantry Regiment bore the initial brunt of resistance to the North Korean invasion of South Korea. The 34th’s responsibility was not to defeat the enemy, but to delay them, buying time for the U.S. Army to deploy additional regiments arriving from Japan. Like the 34th, the new arrivals were also understrength and underprepared for combat. U.S. forces sustained a humiliating series of defeats during its first two weeks in Korea.  Combat losses depleted their ranks. They steadily fell back in a southerly direction. By July 16, the beleaguered American forces in Korea consolidated a defense on the outskirts of Taejon, a gritty transportation hub featuring a large rail yard. 

The overall commander of U.S. ground forces in Korea, General William Dean, organized a line of resistance at the Kum River before the division’s headquarters in the city of Taejon. Dean had no more than three infantry regiments at his disposal. One of these regiments was the 34th. Within the 34th were two battalions. First Battalion had a new commander, installed only hours after the unit’s arrival in Korea. Thirty-one-year old Lieutenant Colonel Harold “Red” Ayres was a Louisianan decorated for his service in Italy during World War II.

Lt. Col. Harold "Red" Ayres, July 1950.

Taejon’s defense would make strategic use of the Kum River as a natural barrier. The river’s course flowed like an inverted horseshoe, from east to west around the north of the city in a large, curving arc, generally offset some ten to 15 miles from the city. At this time of year, the river’s width varied between 300-400 yards, and water levels were generally low.

On July 16, Red Ayres’s battalion took position on the eastern bank of the Kapch’on River, a tributary that flowed north into the Kum. Behind it, there were no other natural barriers of consequence to aid in the defense of Taejon. Ayres’s new responsibility was directly astride the road that crossed the Kapch’on as it approached Taejon from Yusong, to the northwest. This road provided the most suitable access for the NKPA’s dreaded T-34 tanks, the very weapon that the Americans were least prepared to contain.

Ayres’s position was tenuous at best, and the officers under his command were well aware of this. The battalion’s seven hundred men - half of them were really teenagers - were already in poor shape. They were too few to resist the 2,500-strong enemy division, plus tanks, that bore down on them. But with the collapse of the neighboring 19th Regiment, the assignment was to be shouldered entirely by the 34th.

The portion of the front assigned to Ayres’s battalion was too large to be consistently fortified by the number of men available. Accordingly, Ayres positioned his manpower overlooking the bridge that the NKPA’s tanks were certain to cross. There is nothing in the Korean War histories to indicate that U.S. Army engineers attempted to blow up the bridge over the Kapch’on, thus denying North Korean armor the approach to Taejon through Ayres’s position.

Able and Charlie Companies formed the battalion’s front line along the river to Ayres’s left (west) of the bridge crossing. One platoon of Lieutenant Johnsen’s Baker Company continued the line downstream (north and east) of the bridge. Ayres placed reinforcements south of the road, on slightly higher ground, behind this line. These included First Lieutenant Sam Takahara’s headquarters company, to which the balance of Baker Company was adjacent to the south. Immediately behind these was Ayres’s battalion command post. Beyond the 34th’s position, the road to Taejon skirted the city’s airstrip, then proceeded into the city itself.

Depiction of Red Ayres's Battalion deployed in a defensive position on the Kapch'on River, July 20, 1950. 

Colonel Ayres set up his command post immediately behind the first battalion’s line. He had already lost his artillery support when the 63rd Field Artillery Battalion was overrun five days earlier. His infantry would be pitted against an enemy that was not only more numerous, but also reinforced by tanks. Ayres's leadership experience from World War II won him a front-row seat in this conflict, one that quickly became a humiliating, dirty little scrap on behalf of a country for which he had no affinity whatsoever. 

Ayres must have been deeply troubled, but he dared not show it. Doubt is the contagious nemesis of a combat leader. He was given sacrosanct orders to hold the line, regardless of his unit’s capacity to comply. Ayres had just seen his first regimental commander, Jay Lovless, sacked for withdrawing the battalion too quickly from P’yongt’aek on July 6. Then he found out that Lovless’s successor, Col. Martin, lasted all of 24 hours before he was killed at Ch’onan on July 8. The bar had been set for expectations under General Dean’s command.

Red Ayres had a career to protect. But he was preoccupied with thoughts of fulfilling his mission while minimizing the inevitable loss of the boys under his command. His thoughts must have strayed to his wife Elizabeth. Throughout Wednesday, July 19, he watched enemy forces gather a couple miles in front of him on the opposite river bank.