Sunday, December 8, 2019

Will YOU Remember Don Webb?

LEFT: From L to R - Jim Christiansen, Don Webb, Pete Pace, Atlanta GA, 1948. 
RIGHT: Don Webb, "Joan," Unknown.  Yokohama, Japan, 1950.

The following was distilled from the 2004 memoir of James Henry Christiansen, as presented on The source material is a frank, candid, and extremely well-written reflection of a young American man's life before, during, and after the Korean War.

Don Webb and Jim Christiansen were best friends from Atlanta, Georgia. The two boys, both tall and lanky, bore a strong resemblence to each other. They would often take advantage of this fact to cause mischief. Don was amiable, friendly, and outgoing. He played tennis and trombone. His girlfriend was the granddaughter of baseball player Rogers Hornsby.

Don and Jim exited high school in 1948. A quick survey of their employment prospects convinced them that military service was the best option. Don expressed initial interest in the navy, but ended up joining the army per Jim's insistance.

The boys joined a cohort of enlistees who embarked from Atlanta to Fort Jackson, South Carolina for basic training. Vocational training followed. Don and Jim opted for radio school at Camp Gordon. There, they learned to type, to send and transmit via Morse Code, and to operate SCR-399 radio. This massive, truck-bound appliance was powered by a 10kW generator towed on a trailer behind it. Radio school training was self-paced; you graduated when you mastered it. Jim Christiansen finished the curriculum in six months. He would part ways with Don Webb, who required another eleven weeks of training before finally attaining the military operations specialty (MOS) code 5740, "radio operator, intermediate speed."  Jim would later surmise that those ten weeks cost Don Webb his life.

Jim Christiansen as assigned to a signal battalion in Japan. He arrived in the late summer of 1949, when the U.S. Army's post-war occupation was in full swing. Don Webb would later arrive in Japan to an assignment with the 16th Recon Company of the 1st Cavalry Division. While Jim and Don failed to meet up in Japan, they kept track of each other's whereabouts. Each boy - they were 19 years old - developed his own circle of friends, including civilian female companionship. 

Then came June 25, 1950 and a brand new war in Korea. The U.S. Army's haphazard and piecemeal deployment placed Don in Korea in July, more than a month before Jim Christiansen's arrival. The exigencies of combat in 1950 forced many rear eschelon troops - including radiomen like Don Webb - to pick up a rifle and function as infantrymen. 

On September 7, 1950, Jim wrangled a pass from his post to visit Don. Jim hitched a ride on a chow truck to Don's position on the Naktong River. This was the front line; North Koreans were on the opposite river bank. All the fighting took place at night. Jim was there long enough to learn first hand from Don and his colleagues that the war was not going well for the Americans. But Don was committed to his job; he was getting paid to fight. Jim's brief visit ended when he departed with the chow truck upon its return to the rear. He vowed to return again three days later, on the 10th.

Frederick Chorney served alongside Don Webb. In his own recollection posted in 2009, Mr. Chorney recalled his friend Don. On September 10, they were part of a movement to take a hill. Advancing under fire, Don and Fred took momentary refuge behind a rock. They paused long enough to simply look at each other while each caught his breath. Don was the first to move on to continue the climb. That was the last that Fred Chorney saw of him.

Jim Christiansen returned to Don's unit as promised on September 10. The men dodged Jim's queries as to Don's whereabouts. No one wanted to tell Jim that his friend was killed in action only a few hours before. Over the decades that followed, Jim had recurring dreams of running into Don to find out that he wasn't killed after all. Over time, as Jim aged to 30, 40, 50 years and more, the Don Webb encountered in his dreams was still a teenager. 

Don Webb was buried in Atlanta exactly one year after he was killed in action.

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