Nation to mark 60th anniversary of Korean war
Published 12:00 am Tuesday, May 15, 2012
SALISBURY — Jimmie Hartley’s best weapon in Korea was a typewriter and, of course, he’s not complaining.
By the time he arrived in South Korea during the Thanksgiving holiday in 1953, most of the heavy fighting had stopped, and Hartley’s typing skills were needed at the headquarters of his 1169th Engineer Group.
He spent 16 long months in Korea, mostly behind a typewriter.
“The experience was terrible,” Hartley says, looking back, “but my time was good because the fighting had come to a halt.”
When it came to Korea, Hugh B. Greene also was fortunate. A communications man, he spent much of those Korean War years at Fort Lewis, Wash., or on assignments to what was then considered “overseas” in Alaska, which had not yet become a state.
He never set foot in Asia, but in Seattle, he saw the caskets and litters of wounded soldiers being carried off ships coming back from Korea.
Both Hartley and Greene choke back their emotions a bit when they speak of the men who were lost in their war — a forgotten war, in many respects.
According to the Division of Veterans Affairs, North Carolina recorded 968 deaths in service during the Korean conflict, of which 784 were battle deaths. An additional 2,272 service members were wounded; 109 were taken as prisoners of war, and 204 were designated as missing in action.
Records in the Salisbury Post files show that Rowan County lost 28 men during the Korean War.
Hartley and Greene were among more than 177,000 North Carolinians who served in Korea between June 27, 1950, and Jan. 31, 1955. It is estimated that more than 72,000 of these veterans are living in North Carolina today.
Hartley is 79; Greene is approaching is 82nd birthday this week.
In June, the U.S. Department of Defense will launch a national program — “The Year of the Korea War Veteran” — commemorating the 60th anniversary of the Korean War. (See the accompanying box.)
Hartley never knew when he took two years of typing at Granite Quarry High School how important it would be to his two-year stint in the Army.
Drafted in 1953, he passed the typing test at Fort Jackson, S.C. The Army was in such dire need of clerks/typists by the time he reached Korea, his clerical skill allowed him to stay at the company headquarters.
Hartley spent about six months at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri before he shipped out of San Francisco for Korea.
Just after the transport ship put the Golden Gate Bridge behind it, the soldiers battled sea sickness on the rough waters.
“That was awful,” Hartley says. “I could have made it — if everybody else hadn’t been sick.”
The transport ships stopped for several days in Japan before heading to Korea. Hartley remembers riding a train for more than 10 hours to a headquarters with five battalions and five companies, about 30 miles north of Seoul.
For the next 16 months, he slept in eight-man tents. A Korean house boy kept their tent clean and washed their clothes, for roughly a carton of cigarettes a week.
Koreans also did KP and pulled most of the guard duties. But conditions were hardly plush. Hartley says he once went a six-week stretch without a shower — because there were none.
Fields of rice paddies surrounded the sometimes desolate headquarters locations. Hartley marveled at the complexities behind irrigation methods employed by the Koreans.
“One day it was dry, the next day it was covered in water,” he says. “It was unbelievable how they irrigated it.”
In the small-world department, Hartley remembers seeing two men from home — George Barringer and Wilbert Lyerly — while he was in Korea.
“George was there when it was rough,” he says, “and he was about ready to come home. Wilbert Lyerly was a mail clerk who had just gotten there.”
The Army discharged Hartley in April 1955. He had no sea sickness on the return trip to Seattle, and he remembers the cross-country trip back home to North Carolina taking six days by train.
After high school and before he was drafted, Hartley had worked for Southern Railway at Spencer Shops. But the shops were starting to close down by 1955. While he could have worked for Southern Railway elsewhere, Hartley opted instead for a job at the Hefner VA Medical Center in Salisbury, where he built a 33-year career.
His first 20-plus years at the VA were — you guessed it — behind a typewriter.
Hartley and his wife, Margie, have been married 56 years now, raising two children along the way. After years of service, Hartley only recently retired as a volunteer with the Union Fire Department, though he remains on its board of directors.
Raised in Cabarrus County, Greene lives today on Organ Church Road. He was drafted July 9, 1951, and came out of the Army as a corporal July 8, 1953.
His Army service took him to Fort Jackson, then Camp Gordon, Ga., which had been lying dormant since the end of World War II. Greene and his fellow soldiers spent a lot of their time making Camp Gordon habitable again before heading out for Fort Lewis, Wash., and what they all assumed would be their deployment to Korea.
By the luck of the draw and one soldier’s being absent, Greene stayed in the Great Northwest. By alphabetical order, one of Greene’s superiors called out five communications personnel who would be left behind.
When “Graham” didn’t answer the call, “Greene” was the next in line to stay. Greene says he often thinks back to that incredible twist of fate.
One day, Greene traveled to where a transport ship was returning with soldiers who had fought in Korea. He went into the guard shack to check the roster and noticed that his uncle, who was close to his own age, was supposed to be on board.
After the caskets and the injured, the soldiers marched off in rows. Greene had crawled up on some crates and held up his uncle’s name, which he had scrawled on a child’s blackboard.
His uncle spotted him, and they were able to talk about 10 minutes. The fighting in Korea had taken its toll.
“I would not have recognized him,” Greene remembers.
Back home, Greene worked at Cannon Mills for awhile before becoming a farmer. When he returned from the Army, Greene emptied out his duffle bag and hung it in an old building behind his house. It has stayed there all these years.
“I looked at it the other day,” he says.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or email@example.com
“The Year of the Korean War Veteran”
The N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs reminds eligible service members and their families to register for a certificate of appreciation signed by U.S. Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta to all Korean War veterans and the family members who supported them.
The Division of Veterans Affairs has placed a link on its website (www.doa.nc.gov/ vets/KoreanWarForm.aspx).
No documentation is necessary, and the form can be filled out and submitted online by the veteran, family member or a friend.
Requests for certificates may also be downloaded and mailed to: Korean War Veterans Certificate, N.C. Division of Veterans Affairs, 1315 Mail Service Center, Raleigh, NC 27699-1315.
In addition to the Certificate of Appreciation, the U.S. Department of Defense encourages any Korean War veteran who would like to share his or her story with the Korean War Commemoration Committee’s oral history project to visit http://koreanwar.defense.gov or call 703-545-0522.