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.
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.