by Raymond Lenarcic
Take some time today to seek out a special group of veterans in your community and give each a big hug and thank you.
Korean War veterans were among the most courageous men to fight for this country. They suffered terrible losses, endured the most difficult of conditions, and paid a high price for the mistakes made by their civilian and military superiors. Perhaps worst of all, their own country seemed to care less about them and the war. Despite it all, they soldiered on. Examples of their uncommon valor are legion, including the exploits of the two Pauls, McGee and Freeman.
Army Lt. Paul McGee was a self-described “hick” from rural North Carolina. When the war began, he could have done “cushy” duty at Ft. Benning. Instead, he volunteered for the front lines because he wanted to be near his brother, Tom, who was already seeing action with the 7th Division. Because of the high turnover of platoon leaders, he got his wish. However, assignment to a heavy weapons squad wasn’t good enough. Too far from his bro. He finally ended up commanding a rifle company in the 23rd Regiment. He got closer to Tom but, well, you know that old saying=”careful what you wish for.”
The hill he and his 46 men were ordered to defend stood out like a sore thumb in the face of an enemy that outnumbered them. As George Company dug into the frozen ground that February 13th, McGee had no way of knowing that his sector would be the most bitterly contested in one of the most significant and bloody battles of the entire war. For over two days, the men of George repelled assault after assault.
In retrospect, you wonder how men can survive, sleep-deprived, under constant fire, handicapped by jammed rifles and insufficient ammo. But survive, they did. McGee and three others. The remainder were killed, wounded, or MIA. George Company lasted long enough to prevent the enemy from breaking through-an action saving the day for the entire regiment. McGee received a Silver Star for his bravery and leadership. The hill his company held would forever bear his name.
Colonel Paul Freeman was in the same fight. He commanded the 23rd and was one of the most battle-tested officers of the war. At Changnyoung, his decisions bought time essential in keeping the whole division from being overrun. Ditto at Sunchon. At Kanuri, his quick thinking enabled his retreating troops to avoid a trap at the “Gauntlet,” where the 2nd I Division had earlier been decimated. At Chipyongi, he came through again, creating a defensive perimeter that would have impressed Bonaparte. Despite being surrounded and vastly outnumbered, his men held out for over two days. Freeman left the fray only after being wounded. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross for his heroism and the eternal devotion of his men. He went on to become a Four-Star General.
When the guns fell silent in 1953, the 38th Parallel still divided North and South Korea. The “die to tie” war had ended in a stalemate, costing our nation thousands of dead, wounded, and missing. At first glance, it might seem that men like the two Pauls, Louis Pohleven, Teddy Wind, Irish Bob Murphy, Sonny Blum, and all the others had fought for nothing. Not true. Because they had made their stand, that border would not be crossed again. As a result, South Korea could evolve into the second most prosperous, vibrant democracy in all of Asia. Unlike their own, the people of the country they saved would never forget them.
Finally, pick up a copy of one of the best books ever written about the Korean War, the great David Halberstam’s “The Coldest Winter.” (Attention American history teachers) Once you begin reading, you won’t be able to put it down. And when finished, share it with family and friends. Nearly 70 years after its end, it’s time we emerged from our historical amnesia and remembered these too-often-forgotten warriors. Given the sacrifices they made, it’s the least we can do. Two little words can mean so much. Thank you, Korean War veterans.
Raymond Lenarcic is a member of the Little Falls Historical Society.