Veterans of Korean War remember fighting cold, Chinese

May 28, 2011|By DAN DEARTH |
  • Jackson

Editor's note: On June 25, 1950, communist forces of North Korea attacked South Korea to begin the Korean War.

Early in the fighting, South Korean defenses were pushed back to a small pocket of resistance on the southeast coast of the country until United Nations forces, led by U.S. troops, mounted a successful counterattack at Inchon in September 1950.

The war lasted until July 27, 1953, when both sides agreed to end hostilities. The country remains divided today.

The U.S. Department of Defense estimates that 36,574 Americans were killed during the conflict.

Today, in observance of Memorial Day, we tell the stories of three men who served in Korea.

On Monday, we will tell the stories of two members of the West Virginia Air National Guard's 167th Airlift Wing and Hagerstown attorney Bill Young, who served in Vietnam as a legal officer and periodically returns to Southeast Asia to help the poor of that region.

John Jackson, 82


John Jackson said he joined the Army in 1949 because he needed a job.

In August 1950, he was sent to Korea.

Although the military was integrated in 1948, Jackson was assigned to an all-black tank unit that mainly supported the 3rd Infantry Division.

He said the tankers acted like band-aids at the beginning of the war, going from hot spot to hot spot until the United Nations could mount a counterattack to beat back the Communist invasion.

"We were in a whole lot of places," he said. "We were wherever they needed us ... Everybody was under strength."

The Americans were armed with obsolete weapons from World War II. When he was sent north to the Chosin Reservoir, a lot of outfits still had only their summer clothes. They were in for the coldest winter in 90 years, with temperatures well below zero.

"We fought on the ground. We slept on the ground. Everything we did was on the ground," he said.

Many of the men suffered from frostbite because of the cold. Jackson said fighting the weather was just as bad as fighting the Chinese, who moved into North Korea to halt the advancing Americans.

"If you got hit, the blood would freeze right away," Jackson said. "A lot of lives were saved that way."

Jackson said he didn't recall his unit getting a Thanksgiving dinner in November 1950, but said it probably would have been too frozen to eat.

Some of the American commanders underestimated the numbers of Chinese troops and their tenacity, he said.

"The commanders said they were nothing but a bunch of Chinese laundry men," Jackson said. But, he said, "They put a hurting on us."

He said the Americans would have suffered more casualties when they retreated from the Chosin Reservoir had it not been for the support of the Navy and Air Force.

In 1951, Jackson was wounded during a mortar attack and received the Purple Heart.

He said Memorial Day is a time to remember everyone who has been touched by war.

"I feel sorry for the ones who lost their loved ones over there," Jackson said. "It's not something you'll ever forget. I feel sorry for the mothers and fathers."

Albert Jacobson, 81


Albert Jacobson joined the Army on Dec. 7, 1949, and shortly thereafter went to Aberdeen, Md., to learn how to operate military vehicles. Less than a year later, he would see some of the most intense combat of the Korean War.

A tank driver assigned to the 7th Division, Jacobson was part of the invasion force that landed at Inchon on Sept. 15, 1950. He said the tanks were delayed moving inland because their metal tracks had a difficult time getting traction on the cobblestone roads.

The tanks eventually made the uphill climb and were ordered to the edge of Seoul, where Pfc. Jacobson's unit was assigned to take Kimpo Airfield.

He said he continually had to wipe the dust and dirt from his goggles to see the road.

"It was sheer hell without the fighting," Jacobson said. "You had to watch the road because both sides were rice paddies. You would sink" if you slid off the road.

Although the fighting was heavy at Inchon, Jacobson said resistance was light during the northward advance because the North Korean Army had been routed.

The 7th halted near the Chosin Reservoir, where the coldest winter in 90 years was about to hit.

"To me, that was the main thing we had to fight was the cold," Jacobson said. "It was so blistering cold."

The soldiers stood by the exhaust of their vehicles to keep warm. He said food froze almost immediately after it was served, and the soldiers had to chip ice from their Thanksgiving dinners.

Jacobson said things got worse when tens of thousands of Chinese crossed over the frozen Yalu River and took the United Nations forces by surprise.

"They looked like ants," Jacobson said. "We were knocking them off our tanks ... You did your job, but you were so scared."

American doctors told Jacobson's unit that the Chinese were taking morphine to make them oblivious to pain.

He said the American soldiers wished their commanders would have dropped atomic bombs to stop the Chinese onslaught.

Gen. Edward Almond, commander of the American X Corps, landed in a helicopter to tell the surrounded troops that they would have to fight their way out.

"He dropped a box of medals and flew away," said Jacobson, who criticized Almond as a commander. "He could have flown five or six of the wounded out of there."

He said X Corps slugged its way south out of the Chosin Reservoir, loading the wounded on tanks and picking up Korean refugees along the way. It was so cold that truck tires popped like balloons.

Some units suffered 90 percent casualties.

Jacobson said the Americans fought their way to the east coast and were evacuated by sea. He boarded a ship with other evacuees on Christmas Eve of 1950. The putrid smell in the hull, caused by seasick men, prompted him to sleep on the deck.

Jacobson spends Memorial Day thinking about the friends that he lost at the Chosin Reservoir and other battles.

"The real heroes are the ones who didn't make it," he said. "I don't think the public should forget. We gave them what they got today."

Paul Summers, 81

Waynesboro, Pa.

Pfc. Paul Summers was a 20-year-old Marine when he was thrown into the chaotic initial months of the Korean War.

His unit was sent to Pusan, a port city in South Korea where retreating United Nations forces assembled to form a defensive perimeter after the communist invasion.

"They stuck us in there to fill the gap," Summers said. "The first dead I saw over there were four or five Marines. It was friendly fire."

After spending a short time in Pusan, Summers was redeployed to participate in the Battle of Inchon, an amphibious assault that occurred on Sept. 15, 1950. The operation involved landing United Nations troops behind the North Korean army to ease the pressure on Pusan.

Summers said his unit was among the first to land. They were assigned to attack Wolmi-do, a fortified island that the North Koreans used to defend the Inchon coastline.

Summers said the Marines took the island and gathered on high ground to watch the invasion from above.

"It was just like a movie," he said.

On Sept. 17, Summers was wounded during a firefight in a village.

"I saw a North Korean stand straight up in a field," Summers said. "He ducked down and I sprayed the area with my (Browning Automatic Rifle). I was going to throw a grenade and got hit in the shoulder."

Marines dragged Summers to a nearby street and gave him morphine and a small sip of brandy. He was put on a hospital ship and taken to Japan, where he was operated on a month later to remove the bullet.

While in the hospital, Summers ran into a friend who was in the same firefight in the village. He said the friend told him that 25 dead North Koreans were found in the field that he sprayed with his BAR.

"I probably got some of them," Summers said.

Summers received word that he would be transferred to the Philippines. He instead was ordered to draw cold-weather gear and sent to the Chosin Reservoir in late 1950.

"Then, the Chinese got involved," he said. "One night, all hell broke loose. The shooting started at 2 a.m. I heard a Marine running through the snow saying, ‘Get up! Get up! They're here!"

The temperatures were well below freezing when the Chinese army attacked.

He said he picked up his friend's rifle by mistake and fired, but there wasn't a round in the chamber.

"There were dead everywhere," he said. "I'll never forget that."

Summers went on to fight in other battles during the war and said he still thinks of all of the dead men that he saw stacked in piles like timber.

When he returned to the United States, he was part of a military contingent of Korean War veterans who were sent to Washington, D.C., to meet then President Harry S Truman and his wife, Bess.

"I got to shake hands with Harry," he said.

Summers said Memorial Day reminds him of the ultimate sacrifice that American men and women have made in Korea and on other battlefields around the world.

"It means there were an awful lot of boys killed," Summers said. "It's something you'll never forget."

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