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A season of hope for all Americans

June 13, 2004|by Dee Mayberry

Memorial Day weekend in the little towns of Western Maryland seemed like a time far in the past. People lined the streets with flags, smiling, enjoying each other, the parades, the marching bands, the politicians who waved. For an afternoon or two, all of America seemed to pull together in celebration and unity.

In the Nation's Capital, there was dedication of a long-awaited memorial to the veterans of World War II. In the little towns the sense was of a memorial to all American heroes from all wars.

It was a bittersweet day in both places. There were tears, smiles, gestures of pride. Locally, a newspaper asked for stories of war and heroes, of those back home who played out patriotism through simple good lives.

At first, few replies came in to the newspaper. Sad and kind of wonderful that real heroes rarely speak out, stories are long in coming except when told quietly to close family members and sometimes not even to them.

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One father related to a Boonsboro woman covered the wars in the European and Pacific theatres then made his own boots-on-the-ground assignment to go to Korea in 1950. Blind without his glasses and over age for battle, he simply went on his own solid credentials as a war correspondent.

He had a daughter, a schoolgirl, who thought one day to be a linguist following her father, her only relative, about the world on his correspondent's travels. Her home was wherever he happened to be. Unlike students of the '60s and '70s, her impulse was to run to, not from, her trusted parent. He was her world, her home, her anchor and her wisdom.

Then one day he was gone, killed in Korea as she journeyed to the safety of Tokyo to be near him. Her world crashed and burned on a train nearing San Francisco when a newsboy selling newspapers came aboard. Fortunately, newspaper people take care of their own and she was embraced by the loving arms of his colleagues. She was given the information on how he died and it helped.

Among the thousands of stories told among family members of heroism in war, his may be worth telling by the daughter who still and always will grieve for him. His first war was a brief stint in uniform in France - World War I - when he was a very young man. His last was those early days in Korea. In what were to be the final hours of his life, United Nations troops, made up largely of American G.I.s had gone out in a body to rescue a cutoff "lost patrol."

Americans in uniform had been found with hands tied behind their backs, shot in the head by an enemy that cared nothing about Geneva Convention disciplines. North Korea was a sly, hidden powerhouse, building itself up in secret, preparing an attack on its free and democratic neighbor to the South. Its leaders were cruel, its rules of engagement barbaric.

Americans, always hopeful and then war weary - even apologizing for ending the battle of the Pacific with a burst of atomic power hoped and believed it finally all was ended. The fighting men and women came home, tools of war were dismantled - and a number of young troops, serving under General MacArthur kept order in Japan until a formal peace treaty could be signed. At least that was the way it was supposed to happen.

When the North struck, invading its neighbor, it was a surprise. Little heavy defense was available in South Korea, few combat veterans were left nearby. Things went badly and the worst was the discovery of those murdered American youngsters.

So there came another night when a force went out to rescue. Correspondents, including the young girl's father, followed them. As evening fell, a soft thunder-like rumble was heard, hinting at tanks on the roads. Jeeps were sent to take news people to a distant hill and a survivor reported that ripples of fear went down the line of G.I.s as the jeeps pulled out. The enemy tank rumor spread. Why else would noncombatants be pulled back?

In later letters to the schoolgirl, soldiers who made it out spoke of the calming effect of one correspondent who sent his jeep back empty. If the G.I.s could not leave, he would stay. Through the night he and a brave colonel walked the line, offering strength. In newspaper fashion, the man with the pad and pencil noted stories of folks back home, took names, comforted with a listening ear about hopes and fears for tomorrow, goals and futures.

On the distant hill, those watching in safety saw the morning mists rise, the young men with their small arms in place. At full light, they saw the enemy tanks blaze cutting down every living thing in their sights. It was a slaughter.

The body of the correspondent who stayed was seen thrown into a dry creek bed, later to be found and pictures of his long-exposed remains were shown to his daughter for identification.

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