Honor To Our Brothers 14

Picture Pearl Harbor as viewed by Japanese plane on Dec 7, 1941

Pearl Harbor from Attacking Japanese Airplane

Today, I want to memorialize two 19-year-old men who were killed in wars, my brothers Charles and Jimmy.

Charles was the first-born in the family, and was born into a poor, rural household. The year was 1923, and the Great Depression was just around the corner. The entire South was in poverty in the early twentieth century, not having gotten over decades of discriminatory Reconstruction, depression, and destructive farming techniques.

On February 4, 1941 Charles enlisted in the Army at Ft. McPherson, GA. He was radio operator, and was sent to the Hawaiian Department.  That was before the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7 of that year. He got there in time for the attack, and eventually wrote a letter to his younger brother, Ray, telling him of the experience. We still have copies of that letter.

After the attack, personnel were confined to the base. Charles got an opportunity to go on an air freight mission, ferrying a load of aircraft parts from Hawaii to Christmas Island. The plane got off course, and eventually ran out of fuel. My brother radioed in the coordinates, speed, and course, but they were never heard from, again. A resulting search turned up nothing.

Charles is listed as Missing In Action on June 16, 1942.  More than a year later, my parents received a death certificate from the Army Department listing the MIA date as June 16,  1943, an obvious error. My Dad flew into a rage, and called the White House, cursing and telling them of the error. Mom and Dad, later, received another certificate with the correct dates.

My brother Jimmy was just in high school when the Korean War broke out. My parents signed for Jimmy to join the National Guard so that he would not be drafted into the Army to serve in Korea.

Picture of 155 mm Howitzer

155 mm Howitzer – Still In Use

The US was in trouble in Korea, and President Harry Truman nationalized the National Guard. My brother was sent to Korea as part of a 155 mm howitzer gun crew. If you are not familiar with this cannon, it was big, with the shell being over six inches in diameter.

We received lots of souvenirs from Korea like silk smoking jackets (everybody smoked in the 1950’s) and  Korean currency. At least once, we received battlefield photographs showing dozens of dead Chinese troops. Although I don’t remember what happened to the pictures, I do remember pictures of corpses lying on the ground, dozens of them, looking like so many rag dolls thrown down in random positions. I was six years old, and didn’t understand what had happened.

On December 23, 1951 the crew had been firing their howitzer for over 24 hours. As they were re-loading the smoking hot gun, the round exploded in the breech. The entire gun crew was killed. This is the story told to our family by the Army.

Almost twenty years later as a graduating engineer interviewing for a job, I talked to a recruiter with a company that had manufactured 155 mm ammunition during the Korean war. He told me that there had been a problem with defective rounds. Today there would have been investigations and law suits. Back then, we only knew that Jimmy was dead.

Here is a description from the records of the Korean War Veterans Honor Roll:

Sergeant (last name deleted) was a member of Battery C, 196th Field Artillery Battalion, X Corps. He was seriously wounded while fighting the enemy in North Korea on December 23, 1951 and died of those wounds the following day. Sergeant (last name deleted) was awarded the Purple Heart, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.

These two men were so young to have paid such awful prices. We remember and honor them, today.

Note: 5/29/2012 – A perusal of the Tennessee National Guard web site states the following:

During the Korean War, Tennessee mobilized 11 units, with four seeing combat in Korea. The 196th Field Artillery Battalion received a presidential unit citation for helping to repulse the massive Chinese invasion in 1951.

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14 comments

  1. I don’t know how your parents lived through losing two sons like that, and you, your brothers, Bob. How can I say “I’m so sorry”? It’s so little, so paltry an expression. I grieve. I’m stunned and will close with sadness and a hug over the internet lines. z

  2. Thanks, Z. I don’t know how my parents lost two adult children to war, and then lost a daughter to cancer. My sister was 31, and I was 28 when she died from melanoma. Today, they could have taken care of the problem. People of my parents generation were not just tough, they had different expectations. They had lots of kids, and lost a few. We only had two, but we lost a son. It still hurts. Thanks for the nice comment.

  3. YOU lost a son. I can’t imagine the pain. I am so sorry. And for the loss of your sister to melanoma. I have struggled with that disease myself, but mine have been very thin and non invasive, so far, and luckily. Yes, they don’t always get melanomas early enough but, you’re right… so many diseases our loved ones died from could have been stopped had they lived now. So many wars might have been avoided.
    I hope you don’t mind, but I have linked to your post at my Memorial Day post….please let me know ASAP if you’d rather I didn’t. God bless you, Bob. Z

  4. Unimaginable sacrifices by your family…..how blessed to have someone in the family, like you, to keep the rest of us informed of the price of our freedom. Have a wonderful Memorial Day to you and your family.

  5. Bob,
    A very moving post.

    Your parents must have suffered a lot because of losing three children.

    My grandmother lost two her only two sons: one was 2 weeks and the other 31 years old (complications from chickenpox, and he did right here in this house where I live now). She often said that she never got over the loss of her second son — I’m guessing because of the years of bonding involved. My grandmother aged years overnight when her second son died.

    None of these losses I’m speaking of happened on the battlefield. However, parents grieve just as much when they lost their children in battle, yet, somehow, a lot of people don’t seem to realize that sad fact.

  6. AOW: You are right. It is no different to lose a child by illness than in a war. Either way, you have lost your child, and no amount of banner waving can bring them back. My parents were still patriotic.

  7. How wonderful to hear from you. My parents went through some pretty tough times. Being the youngest, I had an easy time, and get to tell all the stories. Keep in touch.

  8. I don’t have the words to express my sadness for your parents, for you, Bob.. Even now, I am doing my best to hold back tears, too late, my heart is broken for your loss and for your family.

    This is why we must NEVER forget our fallen heroes, and your precious brothers are my heroes, they gave their life for every single American walking around, myself included.

    I promise you I will never forget. My grandfather, my dad, uncles and several friends were the lucky one’s that came home. But for those who didn’t, we cannot forget them or for what they endured.

    God bless you and your family.

  9. Thank you, Leticia. My parents had tough times. Their faith was solid, and that’s the way they raised their children.

  10. Thank you, MK. Given the circumstances, I am they would have preferred to live, but they did their duty. That’s all you can expect of any man.

  11. I wonder if my friend Nate, a radio technician at Pearl, knew your brother.
    Have a blessed Memorial Day as we honor those who honored us.

    Ed: That’s quite a story about my brother and being a radio operator. In the small town where he lived, it was next door to a ham radio operator whom, I am sure, taught my brother the Morse Code. During the depth of the depression, he somehow got in to the Civilian Conservation Corps, a Roosevelt New Deal program to put poor people to work. He became a radio operator in the CCC. From there, he joined the Army, I am satisfied, to be a radio operator, probably because somebody told him he could make some money and go places, like Hawaii. From basic and school, he went directly to the Hawaiian Department to a radio operator’s position in the Army shore guard units. He actually witnessed Pearl Harbor raid from his shore battery position radio hut.

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