"KOREA -- THE FORGOTTEN WAR I CAN'T FORGET"
By Clyde F. Hancock
WAYNE, WV, November 11th, 1999
"It has now been over forty-nine years since as a seventeen year old boy I landed at a place called Inchon with the 92nd AFA BN SP. Soon it will be forty-eight years since I departed the unit from somewhere in Korea, and I have yet to forget.
It is true that now at age sixty-seven my sight is much dimmer then it was then, my recall is not what it was, my walk is not as swift, and there are some things that I have forgotten -- like the actual day of my birthday on September 26, 1950, a few days after landing in Korea. And then, when I turned nineteen in 1951, I have forgotten just where in Korea I was. But there are some things burned into my memory about the Korean War that I will never forget, even though there are some I wish I could.
I shall never forget when the reality of being in a war really hit me. The landing on the beach, the planes making bomb runs and the battle ships firing the big guns didn't do it. It came a few days after we were in Korea and our 155MM Howitzers arrived. We were in our first firing positions at Suwon at the end of the air field. In one of the first few fire missions, a man in Battery "B" was killed. We all heard the news but we did not see the blood. The next day or so we got word that some enemy heavy tanks were approaching our position. "C" Battery, of which I was a member, was called on to pull two of our 155MM howitzers out of position and move forward a few miles, set up a road block, and stop the enemy tanks should they appear. I was a member of one of the howitzer crews chosen for the task.
We moved into position with one howitzer on each side of the road, aimed the howitzers in on a spot in the road and waited. Part of each crew was to stay on the howitzer awake and ready to fire, while part of the crew was to get some sleep. Sometime in the early hours before dawn I was given permission to bed down, which I did in a small building near the road. Daylight came, but no enemy tanks. Then someone called my name and instructed me to get up and wake the other men with me. With my eyes not ready to open, and my body not yet ready to wake up, I tried as best I could to follow orders. The first person I tried to wake was dead, and so was the second. They were soldiers killed in the battle for Seoul. Unknown to me and the men with me, we had bedded down where the KIA's had been collected for removal from the battle field. When I saw American blood brought by weapons of war from an enemy, the reality of war set in.
Sometime in early October 1950 my unit was pulled out of the front lines and given orders to prepare for an invasion with the 1st Marine Division somewhere on the West Coast of North Korea. We moved toward the Port of Inchon and finally we were loaded on the landing crafts. Battery "C" men and equipment were aboard LST Q074, a US Navy Vessel with a Japanese crew. Bunks were in short supply and large demand, so three men were assigned to each bunk in eight hour shifts. I made friends with some of the crew and was allowed to eat in the crew's mess and sleep in their lounge.
After fourteen days aboard Q074, we sailed into Pusan Harbor and were transferred to a navy ship for the sea voyage north by way of the Sea of Japan to a place called Iwon. It is now November, and the weather has already turned bitter cold. We supported the Marines for about three weeks, and then we were told the war was all but over, and that we would be getting ready to leave Korea and would be home in the good old U.S. of A. by Christmas. However, we didn't know about the plans the Chinese had made that included us.
Thanksgiving Day 1950 until Christmas Eve 1950 will forever remain in this old soldier's mind as one continuous nightmare. Either Thanksgiving or the day after we were given orders to load up lock, stock and barrel, and be ready to move with gas tanks full and weapons at the ready. The weather was bitter cold, snow was falling, and we were headed in the wrong direction to be going home. When the orders came down we headed out for a place we would later refer to as the Frozen Chosen. After all these years, I cannot recall just how long it took us to make the move, but I can still see the narrow snow covered roads, the hairpin curves and steep mountainsides in my mind. After much weary travel fighting sleep and the cold, we arrived at our assigned position and began to take the enemy under fire sometime around the last of November or the first of December, 1950.
As time went on, things turned for the worst. The weather turned colder each day until it reached 30 degrees below 0. Just a short time after our arrival in the Frozen Chosen, we were surrounded and cut off by the enemy. Ammunition and food ran dangerously low and warm clothing was not to be had. I was afraid to go to sleep thinking I might freeze to death, and afraid to go on guard duty for fear of being killed by the enemy. After a while, I didn't much care because I thought I would die one way or the other.
One cold day while we were engaging the enemy in all directions we were told that help, food and supplies were on the way. The overcast skies then turned gray with blowing snow and the air drops would be at least hindered, if not prevented altogether. We then heard the roar of aircraft engines which we couldn't see. It seemed they had missed us altogether as they were flying north and the sound of the aircraft began to fade. Then, all of a sudden three or four flying box cars approached from the north at what appeared to be less than a thousand feet and dropped cargo in various colored chutes. It appeared that Christmas had come early for the 92nd AFA BN, but it was not to be.
As we rushed to get the much needed food and supplies, we found much to our dismay that it was not for us . As I recall, it was all 30 caliber ammo for M1's – no food. A day or so later, some soldiers that had been trapped just to the north of us broke out and began their march to the sea and safety. I watched as the column went by. Some of the men had burlap sacks tied around their feet for warmth. Many of them never made it to the waiting ships at Hungnam.
Soon it was time to start our march to the sea and the waiting ships. It was a fight all the way, and I shall never forget that day and some of the things I saw. We approached a place on the road where the enemy had held until early that morning, and a place where much U.S. equipment had been destroyed and many U.S. service men had been slaughtered.
As our column slowed to work our way around the dead and through the wreckage, I looked down from the ring mount of the half track on which I was riding, and there by the road lay a soldier that I had remembered seeing pass by our position a few day before. I shall never forget what I saw.
The young man had been killed by the enemy just a few miles from the waiting ships and safety. He had fallen to the cold ground on his back, his right had still holding his weapon and near his left hand was his wallet with the wind turning the pictures. I still see him in my mind and still wonder if he died looking at pictures of his loved ones.
I shall never forget the planes from the carriers that flew so close to us dropping napalm on the enemy -- so close to us that we could feel the heat. We finally arrived at the sea port of Hungnam and took up firing positions. We fired our 155MM howitzers until the very last minute before they had to be loaded on the ships. When the howitzers were gone we more or less fought as a rear guard until we were given orders to load on the landing crafts that would take us out to the waiting ship.
I was sick when I got to the ship on Christmas Eve, but was so glad to be there I did not mention it. I was placed on kitchen duty for the cruise to Pusan. When we arrived in Pusan, I had a temperature of 106 and was placed in the aid station and given penicillin every four hours for a few days. When the orders came down for us to start our march back toward the north, my temperature was down to 102 and I was declared fit to man a .50 caliber machine gun mounted on a half track for the trip to once again engage the enemy.
Christmas 1950 is now history. We are in a new year and still going the wrong direction to be going home. The weather, though not as cold as it was in the Frozen Chosen, is still a problem. We worry about freezing to death and even more so after two men went to sleep in a fox hole and froze to death one bitter cold night. We are moving a lot, and this helps in fighting the cold and time on our hands. Each new position requires us to dig personal fox holes, powder and ammo pits which is both time consuming and tiring, but helped us to sleep better when we did get to bed down.
January 1951, and the snow turn into February 1951 with more snow and cold. Finally it's March and spring is just around the corner, but no word about the end of the war and going home.
The last of March 1951, and replacements start arriving. One of those replacements is Pfc. Calvin C. Grant, who receives word after his arrival that his wife Mary has given birth to their daughter, Patricia, in Danville, Virginia. I shall never forget the joy that Calvin expressed to all of us, and the joy we had for him and his family at the announcement of Patricia's birth. We did not know at that time that Calvin C. Grant would never see his daughter, and Patricia would never see her daddy. Calvin C. Grant was killed in action defending our position against enemy soldiers trying to overrun and destroy the 155MM howitzers of "C" Battery on April 24, 1951.
April, 1951 came with the arrival of replacements and talk of a truce. A program called rotation would allow some men to leave for home very soon. Also with April came the rain, but no May flowers -- just mud. I had hopes every day that I might be told to pack up and go home. But the rains, mud, and extreme heat kept coming. I kept hoping--however, May turned to June, and June to July and on into September, and a few of us that left Fort Hood, Texas with the unit are still with it.
Two things stand out in my mind about September 1951. The first was that I was promoted to SFC(E6) in the early part of the month. The second was that I turned nineteen on September 26.
October and cool weather came, and I was thinking that winter is not far off and not sure that I can survive another winter in Korea. November and the snow came, and I am wondering will I even make it home for Christmas, 1951.
December found me still in Korea fighting a fight that I didn't start and wanting very much to go home. Then the day came, the list was read and my name was on it, and I said good-bye to the best group of soldiers that ever put on a pair of combat boots. A few days later I departed Korea from the same place that I had entered the country, and on the same ship that I had left the U.S. And yes, I did make it home for that Christmas.
I was discharged on January 18, 1952, but could not get over the war and readjust to civilian life. I had a serious drinking problem, but even that wouldn't let me forget and put the war behind me. I held several jobs and even went back to school for a while. But all this time I was like an old man to my peer group and just could not fit in nor cope. On November 11, 1952, I reenlisted in the Army, and would pull one more tour in Korea before the war ended.
At war's end I wore a battle star for every major campaign fought in Korea. I stayed with the Army until I retired on December 1, 1969. I was a heavy drinker until the Lord saved me in the Winter of 1968. But all the drinking still did not let me forget. The years have come and gone, but I have not forgotten. My wife and children have helped to ease the pain, my work helping others has also helped, but I have not forgotten. I still find my self crying from time to time when November and December rolls around each year. It is not as bad as it once was, but it is still there. Yes, I still remember the Korean war and many of the brave young men that fought there. Some of the names I remember I can't put a face with now, but I do remember. In the Summer of 1999, at the encouragement of my daughter, after almost forty-eight years since I had last spoken to a member of my combat unit, I began an Internet search for my war buddies, in the hope that if I made contact with some of them it would be a healing for me.
I recalled a best friend had been from South Carolina, and I found his address and phone number and called. I left a message on an answering machine and waited. That evening my phone rang and at the other end a young lady informed me that the man I was seeking was indeed my friend and her granddaddy, but that he had passed away in 1997. I was saddened at the news and angry at myself for procrastinating. It was a setback for a while.
A few days later I received a call from my sister-in-law informing me of an ad in the DAV for that month about the 92nd AFA BN having a reunion at Columbus, Georgia in October. She gave me a phone number to call for information. My heart was beating fast as I dialed the number and waited for the voice on the other end. When the phone was answered
I told the person who I was and the reason for the call. He told me his name was Guy McMenemy and that he had been my gunner in Korea. My heart filled with unspeakable joy at the sound of his voice. We talked for a while and he said he would send me information about the reunion and a roster of names of all the members that they had been able to locate. The list included names, addresses and phone numbers. I set out to contact as many of them as I could put names and faces together. I was able to contact several of the men that I had fought with and the healing seem to began almost at once.
I was excited about making the plans to attend the reunion, and my family shared that excitement with me. My daughter took time off from work and she, my wife and I attended the reunion. What a joy it was to see so many of those that had shared the sacrifices, hardships of war, cold, mud, heat, rain, sorrow and pain of being in a far away place that was so distant from family, friends and the comforts of home.
As a result of the unit reunion and the encouragement of my dear daughter, I endeavored to find the family of Calvin C. Grant. My daughter located two families with the last name of Grant, but they had a North Carolina address and Grant had been from the State of Virginia. The first number I called did not answer. I called the only other number I had and the lady that answered the phone was a sister-in-law to Calvin. She informed me that Calvin's wife had remarried and that she and the daughter were still living in Virginia. She stated that she would contact them for me and find out if it would be okay for me to get in touch with them. She called back in a few days and told me it would be okay to call, and I did. Once again I felt a little more healing and a closing to a chapter in my life that was long overdue.
Forty-eight years is a long time, but not long enough to make me forget. I can still today see some of the scenes of the Korean War as if it had only been yesterday. Once in a while it seems I can hear Lt. Turner saying "fire mission" and hear SFC David Cowan saying into the EE8 telephone "Number 3 is ready SIR." Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night thinking someone has given CSMO (close stations march order).
Now I am at a place in my life, in the army of the Captain of my salvation, and I will no doubt soon hear the last CSMO in this life. This old tent will be folded up and I will make my last move. I will then never hear, fire mission, number three is ready, nor the blast of the howitzer again. But until then, and only then will I be able to forget Korea, the forgotten war that I can't forget."
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