Chester Coker was born on June 7, 1931, in Tifton, Georgia. He grew up on a farm and graduated from Leesburg High School. He does not recall learning anything about Korea in school. At age seventeen, he moved to Florida for a job and then later to Pennsylvania for another. He saw a sign at the Allentown, Pennsylvania, post office that said “Join the Army and See the World”, and shortly after, he enlisted in the Army. He attended a twelve-week boot camp training in Fort Knox, Kentucky. While at bootcamp, the Korean War broke out, so he was sent to Korea after he completed his training. He was concerned about going to Korea because he remembered living through World War II as a kid. He left for Korea via Seattle, Washington, with stops in Alaska and Tokyo, Japan. From Japan, he landed in Pusan, South Korea. He was a rifleman in the 1st Calvary Division, 7th Calvary Regiment, 1st Battalion, Charlie Company. He was injured multiple times throughout the war. After he returned home, he became a pastor and returned to Korea multiple times as a missionary.
Joining the Front Lines at the 38th Parallel
Chester Coker discusses joining the front lines when American troops took Seoul and crossed the 38th parallel. He recalls meeting severe resistance and his company losing twenty-five percent of its men, about fifty total, crossing the Imjingang River. He remembers one of his only thoughts at the time was survival. He recalls jumping into the river instead of crossing the bridge, without knowing how deep it actually was.
Chester Coker recalls the recapture of Seoul. He remembers a great deal of artillery and many airstrikes preceding the foot soldiers marching into the city. He remembers a devastated city, with only one brick building left standing. He recalls having the North Koreans on the run after leaving Seoul two to three days. He recalls never making it to Pyungyang due to multiple truck accidents.
What Was the Point of War?
Chester Coker talks about how senseless he originally thought the war was. He reports being confused about his purpose and why the U.S. Army was there. He shares how he later understood the great value the war provided South Korea. He mentions stopping the spread of communism and shares he has returned to South Korea five times.
The Battle That Got Me
Chester Coker speaks about the battle which impacted him the most. He recalls how he and his unit were just north of Panmunjeom, close to the 38th parallel. He remembers a stalemate had been reached, and negotiations were stalled, and the Army was ordered to push north. He shares how the battle that followed was the most fierce he experienced, pushing the North Korean and Chinese soldiers back north. He recalls how they were able to push forward because many of the enemy troops were asleep. He describes how a grenade landed and blew up on top of him.
Comparing Korea, Then and Now
Chester Coker compares what Korea looked like when he was there during the war to the Korea of today. He describes the homes as straw and mud huts and comments that there were basically no roads. He details witnessing the brick homes, elaborate highways, modern comforts, and major cities like Seoul and also recognizes the economic transformation of South Korea. He comments on how the Korean War was known at the Forgotten War back in the 50s, just as it still is today.