Local veterans recall the Korean War and safeguarding the peace
Though never officially declared a war, the Korean War was a brutal conflict that raged from June 25, 1950 to July 27, 1953 between North and South Korea and pitted U.S. soldiers against massive onslaughts of Chinese communist troops.
When the United Nations, China and North Korea signed a cease-fire armistice ending the Korean War 67 years ago, U.S. casualties amounted to 33,629 killed, 103,284 wounded and 7,140 taken prisoner. More than one million civilians perished.
American soldiers were dubbed “the walking wounded” because they were patched up in the field and sent back into battle—a savage existence where ever-changing front lines, merciless artillery barrages, amputations from frostbite and death from dysentery were commonplace.
John R. Krull of Three Rivers was thrust into such conditions on October 22, 1951 as a private first class rifleman assigned to 8th Cavalry Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division. “I was 21 years old and only had six weeks of basic training,” he recalls. “I was woefully unprepared for combat.”
Krull and his fellow soldiers in George Company were eventually sent to reinforce American troops along the Jamestown line, a series of defensive positions designed to prevent another invasion of South Korea by China, which had entered the war to support North Korea.
George Company and Fox Company took turns guarding a heavily fortified outpost, Hill 255, overlooking the Yokkok River near Sokkogae, South Korea, about 1,500 yards in front of the main line of U.S. resistance to enemy troops.
Fighting broke out when Chinese troops shelled Krull’s company to keep his unit pinned down while they attacked Fox Company’s 3rd Platoon under the command of Lt. James L. Stone defending Hill 255. “It was harrowing,” Krull recalls.
After the battle, Thanksgiving day, Krull’s unit was sent to relieve 3rd Platoon. “What we saw then was almost beyond belief. Something I can never forget. People everywhere, most of them already dead.”
The Chinese had launched a full-scale assault to overrun the outpost. Stone and his men held off waves of grenade-throwing attackers, about 800 troops, throughout the night and into the morning hours when the fighting turned to hand-to-hand combat.
Wounded several times, Stone and his few remaining men managed to keep firing, even using flame throwers, on advancing Chinese troops until he passed out from loss of blood. Stone and five other men were taken prisoner.
“As I surveyed the carnage, I kept saying to myself, this could have been me,” Krull recalls. “You might say I grew up very fast. I was more alert and prepared.”
The battle on Hill 255 left an impression on Krull. “Every Thanksgiving Day I remember that terrible scene, and the bravery of Lt. Stone and the 3rd platoon.”
As a historical note, Hill 255 was dubbed Pork Chop Hill because of its shape on topographical maps. It gained infamy as the site of ferocious battles in the spring and summer of 1953. In just two days of fighting shortly before a truce was called, the number of U.S. artillery rounds fired per hour set an all-time record surpassing the largest barrages of World War I and II. Following his release from captivity, Lt. Stone received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hill 255.
After the armistice was signed, a Demilitarized Zone (DMZ) was formed to serve as a buffer between North and South Korea. Since then, America has stationed around 30,000 troops in South Korea to help maintain a tenuous truce.
The 2.5-mile wide DMZ, which stretches some 160 miles across the Korean Peninsula, is heavily guarded and considered one of the world’s most dangerous places. Sporadic outbreaks of fighting have occurred there throughout the years.
Terry Dugan was stationed with the U.S. 2nd Infantry Division not far from the DMZ during the early 1970s.
It was a particularly tense time between the United States and North Korea. In 1968, North Korean patrol boats opened fire on the USS Pueblo, a Navy intelligence vessel, during the ship’s routine surveillance of the North Korean coast wounding several aboard. Taken prisoners of war, members of the 83-man crew were tortured into signing confessions. A year later, a North Korean MiG fighter shot down a U.S. Navy intelligence aircraft, killing all 31 men aboard.
Because the Vietnam War was still raging, Dugan felt by enlisting in the Army rather than waiting to be drafted he might have more options.
After basic and advanced training, he attended Artillery Officer Candidate School at Fort Sill, Oklahoma, and arrived in Korea a newly minted second lieutenant.
Eventually Dugan was placed in C Battery, 6th Battalion, 37th Artillery. “Our battalion was spread out in three companies in a very rural and mountainous area about halfway between Seoul and the DMZ. We were in one of the invasion corridors used during the start of the Korean War.”
Dugan initially served as an artillery forward observer during field exercises—requiring him to clamber up hills to establish camouflaged outposts—then led the fire direction center, which translates information from forward observers into data provided to the artillery crews for firing.
He received training on the assembly, maintenance and delivery mechanisms for 155 mm nuclear rounds. “This was a big secret—that we had nuclear rounds in country,” he recalls. “Should something start, we would either transport, assemble and deliver rounds to Korean gun units for their firing, or get the rounds out of country.”
Dugan’s responsibilities included ensuring his unit passed intense, multiple inspections concluding with a team from the states. “If we failed that, the battalion itself would be placed on inactive.”
His unit would typically go on alert about once a month due to suspected incursions by North Koreans through tunnels or other means. “We would arm up and everyone would have live rounds for rifles or in my case a 45 pistol.”
Dugan left the service a first lieutenant. He then continued graduate school at the University of Michigan where he received his Ph.D. in biology, taught at Kalamazoo College and later worked for Bristol-Myers Squibb. He resides on Birch Lake in Vandalia.
Perhaps John Krull best summarizes the feelings of many veterans who served in Korea. “I proudly served—and am thankful I got out alive.”