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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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[Beginning of Transcribed Material]
I: It’s November 1, 2021, beautiful city of The Villages in Florida. My name is Jongwoo Han. I’m the President of Korean War Legacy Foundation which has more than 1, 500 interviews, not only from the United States but also from 21 other countries that participate in the War. We are doing this to commemorate the special occasion of the 70th anniversary of the breakout of the Korean War supported by the MPVA, Ministry of Patriots and Veterans Affairs of the Republic of Korea.
But mostly, we want to preserve your memory. It’s been a long time. It’s been already 70 years, more than, and we want to honor your service.
C: Thank you.
I: Most importantly, the Korean War has been known as the Forgotten War.
C: And the place of the Korean War in our history book is really wrong. So, I want to fix that. I want to change that. And that’s why I’m working with my history teachers.
All of the workers that are working with my Foundation are history teachers, not full time but part time. And my Foundation’s motto is of the teacher, for the teacher, by the teacher. And that’s, in my opinion, the only way that we can transfer the legacy of the Korean War and your honorable service to our young generations and put that into a right place in our history education. That’s why we are doing this.
It’s my great honor and pleasure to meet you. Thank you for coming for the interview. And you are coming here with your wife.
I: Your beautiful wife, Marge. So, I will ask her to join us if she’s okay, later.
I: But please introduce yourself. What is your name, and spell it for the audience please.
C: My name is Chester Coker, CHESTER COKER.
I: What is your birthday, sir?
C: Six, seven, three one.
I: Thirty-one. So, now you are 90 years old.
C: I’m 90+.
I: Ninety-year-old young. How about that?
I: Where is your birthplace?
C: Tifton, GA.
I: Could you spell it, TIF
I: Georgia, I’m sorry. Tell me about your family background when you were growing up as a child, parents and your siblings.
C: Well, my dad was a farmer.
I grew up on a farm. And the whole area around that Tifton area was a great farming area.
I: Um hm.
C: And so, my dad was a farmer. And I stayed on the farm until I was 17.
C: And then I came down to Florida in 1948, and I did some construction work here in Florida. Then I moved to the State of Pennsylvania.
C: And took a factory job in Pennsylvania.
And I was there for about a year and a half. I walked by the Post Office one day in Allentown, Pennsylvania, and I saw the sign there that said join the Army and see the world.
C: So, I enlisted.
I: Okay. When was it?
C: It was May 1950.
I: May 1950.
C: May 15, 1950.
I: So, what about? Did you go through school when you were growing up?
C: Well, yes. I went to a regular school.
I: When did you graduate high school?
C: Well, I actually was from Leesburg when I came down here, from the Leesburg High School.
I: Leesburg High School. And let me ask this question. Now you are a Korean War veteran. But did you learn anything from history class about Korea when you were in high school?
C: Never heard of it.
I: You didn’t know where it was either.
I: Alright. That’s a good start, okay. So, you joined the Army in May of 1950.
I: So, a month before the Korean War broke out, right?
C: That’s right.
I: Right. You never imagined that you’d go to a country you never knew before.
C: No, I joined the Peacetime Army.
I: So, where did you get boot camp training?
C: Fort Knox, Kentucky.
I: Kentucky. And then?
C: Well, when I took my basic training, the four weeks of basic training there, and when we finished that, they put orders on us to send us to Korea. In the meantime, the Korean War had broken out. And so, they sent orders to send us as the first replacements into Korea. But then they decided they’d better keep us back another two weeks and give us two weeks of combat training.
I: Um hm.
C: And so, they held us back over for two weeks.
C: Fort Knox.
C: And then they sent us to Korea.
I: So, you knew that you were going to go to the Korean War, right?
C: I knew at the end of my training.
I: And were you afraid?
C: Well, I was concerned, yes. I was 10 years old when the Second World War broke out, and I followed that around.
And I knew what happens in war. So, I had some concern, yes.
I: Um hm. And did you tell your parents about it?
C: I did.
I: What did they respond to you?
C: Well, they were just in sympathy with me. And so, but they knew that, you know, I had to go because the government said I had to go.
I: Um. Do you remember the date that you departed from the United States? From where?
C: September 18 and Seattle, Washington.
I: Fort Lewis.
C: Well, we were there for a short time, a couple of nights. We boarded planes and then they flew us into Anchorage, Alaska and set us down there and fed us and gassed the plane back up. At that time, you know, the plane couldn’t fly across the Pacific.
I: Um hm.
C: They didn’t have the fuel capacity.
C: So, we set down on Shama Island.
I: Um hm.
C: That was the end of the Aleutian Islands.
C: And we set there and fueled up again, and the next place was Tokyo.
C: Yeah, Camp Drake in Tokyo.
I: And from Tokyo, where did you land in Korea?
C: Well, from Tokyo we took a train down to Sasebo, Japan. And from Sasebo, Japan, we took a Japanese boat, ship, and we landed in Pusan.
I: When was it?
C: That was the 18th, about the 25th of September.
I: Twenty-fifth of September.
I: So, already Inchon was occupied by the US Forces because we had the Inchon Landing on September
C: That’s right.
I: September 15.
C: That’s right. It was called at that time, The Taegu Perimeter.
C: And we caught a train up to Taegu. And that’s where our line was at.
That’s where our gun and placements and everything was at.
I: Um hm. What was your unit at the time?
C: First Cavalry Division, the 7th Cavalry Regiment.
I: Cavalry Division, and?
C: The 7th Cavalry Regiment. And I was in Charlie Company. That was our first battalion.
I: Cavalry Regiment. And then Charlie
C: The First Battalion, Charlie Company.
I: Charlie Company.
I: What was your specialty, MOS?
C: I was just a rifleman.
I: Rifleman. Tell me about the Taegu Perimeter situation. How severe was it? How many enemies were left there, still left there, right, even though we cut the logistical line around the 38th Parallel. But still there were remnants of North Korean soldiers there, right?
C: Well, when I joined the front lines,
I: Um hm, in Taegu Perimeter.
C: Yeah, just outside of Taegu.
C: And we pushed north. We took Seoul City. And we didn’t stop there because our forces continued on and approached the 38th Parallel. And we crossed it. We crossed the parallel.
I: Um hm.
C: And entered into North Korea.
I: So, how was that part of the battle, from Taegu to Seoul? Was there any severe resistance from the enemies, or was it like a smooth
C: No. We had severe resistance. And my first battle that I was really in, I mean, outside of snipers and stuff like that, was, I think crossing the bridge of the Imjin River bridge.
And it was our battalion’s objective, and our company led the charge going across the bridge.
I: Um hm.
C: And of course, they had 51 caliber machine guns on one hill and 31 caliber machine gun on the other, a 37 anti-tank weapon shooting direct down the bridge.
And we lost 25% of our company.
I: Wow. When you crossed the Imjin River?
C: When we crossed the river.
I: How many people are you talking about, 25%?
C: Well, a company is 200. And so, 25% would be almost 50 men.
I: What were you thinking at the time?
C: I was thinking of survival.
C: Yes. Actually, when we got across, approaching the end of the bridge, of course they had the end of the bridge zeroed in, and you had to run across all the bridge and then go around the embankment on either side. At that point there, they had that zeroed in. And that’s where a lot of our casualties took place. Actually, I jumped off the bridge into the river.
I: Oh, my goodness.
C: In order, rather than go that way. And we, several of us did that. And we didn’t know how deep the water was, but it was only about this deep. I could touch the bottom, and we came up under the bridge.
I: When was it?
C: That was September.
C: Yeah. That was probably the end of September.
I: And from Imjin River, you went up to Pyungyang, right?
C: Well, we went to Seoul. We took Seoul first.
I: Oh. Seoul.
C: Yeah, we took Seoul.
I: So, tell me. The Seoul that you saw in late September 1950, how was it? Tell me the details because children don’t know.
C: Well, when we took, of course there were a lot of, you know, air strikes. And there was a lot of artillery that had preceded the foot soldier in there. And when we got there, the only thing that I remember seeing standing was just an old brick building kind of in the midtown section.
Most of the rest of it was just devastated. Course you know, they didn’t have a whole lot of big buildings anyway.
I: Completely devastated.
C: Yeah, it was devastated.
I: We landed in Inchon on September 15, and Seoul was recovered on September 28.
C: Um hm.
I: Were you after the 28th or before the 28th?
C: Say that again.
I: Seoul, landed in Inchon September 15.
I: And then 28th, we recovered Seoul, the 28th of September. Were you before the 28th joining the Forces?
C: Oh yes. I was with the Forces First Cavalry Division as we went through Seoul City. We encamped around Seoul City.
I: So, tell me about it. I heard that there was severe resistance from North Koreans, right?
C: You had the, when the Inchon Landing took place and they cut North Korean line and the Pusan Perimeter, the Marines that had cut the line, they were, we had them trapped between us.
C: And so, as we closed in on that, a lot of them, they went around.
I: Um hm.
C: And we bypassed a lot of the enemy because we just hit the hot spots and went on.
I: Um hm.
C: Sometimes we’d get in a truck, and we would just travel in a truck until we hit resistance, then we’d get out and clean the hills around and we’d get loaded on trucks and we’d start again. So, we really had the North Korean, you know, on the run.
I: Right. So, how long did you stay in Seoul?
C: Not long, maybe two or three days.
I: And after that, you went to
C: We were going north.
C: They pushed north.
I: So, from Seoul up to Pyungyang, there were not.
C: Okay now. I never did reach Pyungyang at this point. Our regiment was headed in that direction to Pyungyang.
I: And we were on trucks, and we were passing the little rice paddies on both sides. And the little narrow roads they’d built them up, you know, a little higher than the rice paddy.
And the driver, there was a village on the left, and it was on fire. And the driver got to looking at the village and run off the road and turned us over. All the men that was in the back, of course, we got some scratches but not hurt much.
I: Um hm.
C: So, we just caught the other trucks coming along, a few would catch us and then another and another. So, I got the kitchen truck that had a trailer behind it. I said feel free to save him. The driver said well, he said, I won’t be like that fool up there.
I: Um hm.
C: U won’t run off the road. Well, we traveled even till night. And then we started into the mountain, climbing the mountain. And on the other side of that was Pyungyang. And as we were climbing up the mountain, it was dark. All you had was blackout lights to see. And the driver ran off the mountain. I was sitting in the back, and there was like two six-gallon kerosene drums.
It was a kitchen truck. And I knew I had to get away from the truck, so I just jumped in the dark. I didn’t know how far it was down or what. But I jumped in the dark and landed face down and damaged my knee. And the truck came down and rolled over and rolled right on top of my back. The end of it caught right across my back.
And some of the soldiers came down and managed to pull me out from under that cause I couldn’t move my legs. And the medic came and he said you got a broken back. Well, I didn’t have a broken back. But I was sent back for 45 days, I was sent out on a hospital ship.
I: Where? In Inchon?
C: In Inchon.
I: Was it.
C: USS Haven.
I: USS Haven.
C: In Inchon, then after that, that’s when the Chinese entered into the War, on Thanksgiving.
C: Now, I was not in the company when they entered into it. But they pushed the units back. I joined the company at that point. And actually, we were north of, you know, Inchon’s a little bit north of Seoul. And so, we were all pushed back below. We lost Seoul again.
I: But after 45 days in the USS Haven, you went back to join your unit.
C: I went back to join my unit.
I: Where was your unit at the time that you joined them?
C: Well, my unit was almost in Pyongyang. But I went into a, I guess a holding outfit for people that was, you know,
C: And they kept me there until my company came back, and then I joined it.
I: Right. Where was that?
C: Just north of Seoul.
I: And then Chinese attacking.
C: They came in and pushed us back.
I: Right. I have a question for you because some of the interviews, they’re saying that they saw Chinese around November. But some of them also captured them in early October. And General Willoughby who was on MacArthur’s staff, didn’t do much of a good job about those intelligence, about the Chinese intervention.
What do you think?
C: I think they probably had some patrols and units that they were probing south. But when the bulk of the Chinese entered in, it was around Thanksgiving.
I: Around Thanksgiving.
C: As they came across the Yalu River.
I: Um hm.
C: And actually, the 8th Cavalry lost their colors because they just devastated them.
They went, I think, to our left. And our unit and then the 5th Cavalry to the right. But the 8th Cavalry got devastated. And on the way back, the men told me that was in the company then, told me that when a truck would run out of gas, you just left it or you disabled it, burn it or tank or whatever. We just had to fall back because we were outnumbered.
I: Um hm.
So, from there, where did you go, up to where, Suwon or Seoul or what happened?
C: Well, we were down just south of Seoul, and we established up a line, and that’s pretty much where we held until the forces got built up again. In the meantime, General Ridgeway took over.
I: Um hm.
C: Whenever General MacArthur, you know, was relieved.
C: You know, Ridgeway took over.
And we had to build our lines back up again. And then we started to march north. So, we had to take Seoul again, and we went back to the 38th Parallel and actually went across the 38th Parallel.
I: Um hm. Can you remember what town you were in around the 38th Parallel? Was it like
C: Well, I was just north of Uijeongbu.
C: Uijeongbu was I think, in my memory was the first major town south of the 38th Parallel.
I: Right, in the west side.
C: They had this big old smokestack. And that was the only thing that was standing then.
I: Um hm.
C: And it has a cavalry patch on it.
I: Now you smile for the first time. At the time, when you see all those people, 25% of your soldiers were killed and see so many Chinese, what were you thinking?
C: My basic thought when I went to that place,
I: Um hm.
C: Was what in the world are we doing here.
C: It was a land to me, just like a forsaken land, and here we were putting our men, and they’re dying. And I didn’t see the value of it at that time.
I: That’s the war.
C: Yeah, that’s the war.
I: So, you didn’t see the value at the time. But have you changed that idea?
C: Yes, I have.
I: How and why? Tell me.
C: Well, I think one of the accomplishments there was that we are stopping communism. The spread was coming.
C: And the second thing is that if you go back to South Korea today and you look at it,
When I was there, about 3% of the people were Christians. Today, it’s probably better than 35%.
I: You know exactly. So, have you been back to Korea?
C: I’ve been back many times.
I: Many times. When is the latest?
C: I think the latest time was in 1995 I went back.
I: That was the last time?
C: The last time.
I: You need to go back again. Nineteen ninety-five, okay?
C: Yeah. Well, I’ve been back five times.
I: Right. So now it’s time for you to tell me and young children here about the transformation you were able to see from 1950 to 1995. Give me details.
C: Okay. Let me, before I get that, let me get to the battle that got me, alright?
C: We were over in North Korea. The Peace Talks were going on in Panmunjom.
C: We were up just north of Panmunjom in that general area. And we were stalemated. The American lines and the Chinese and North Korean lines were here. And we were just kind of in a holding pattern.
We were probing all the time, you know. But then orders came down that we were to let the North Koreans know that we were serious, let the Chinese know that we were serious because the negotiations seemed to be stalled. And so, orders came down that we would push north. And of course, all during that time, that pause, they had the chance to build up a very stiff line. And we had to go through that and had to break that. And uh, we had,
That was the most fiercest battles that I’d ever seen in my life was there.
C: And so, we went out to take the subjective. And out there, you know, you’d be on the mountain, the valleys. Nobody’s in the valley. You’re on the mountain. And so maybe some of our American Forces might be on this mountain ridge and some on this mountain ridge. And that way it’d be open in between. And so, we had pushed out to take our objective.
And I was the first man on the hill.
I: Do you remember the number of the hill?
C: This was in October the 8th 1951.
I: What hill? Do you remember the name?
C: I was trying to call that hill back up. I knew it, but I can’t call it to memory right now.
I: Go ahead.
C: But anyway, we caught them asleep. We walked right up on the enemy. They were asleep.
C: First time I’ve ever seen that in my life. There’s all these thresholds dug and everything, and here was, they actually had grenades laid out. And I said this just doesn’t make sense at all. And so, we went on up the hill, and I knelt down and looked in the bunker, and there were two in there asleep. See, what they do, the enemy would hit us at night. We’d hit them in the daytime.
C: They’d attack at night. We’d attack in the daytime. And so, the whole side of the hill was asleep, so I just told the men spread out. Throw grenades in all the areas, and we did. And we killed a lot of them. The backside of the hill, they rose up and came, and our Forces, well we had to withdraw back to a smaller position. And then we combined two companies, Able and Charlie Company together.
I: Um hm.
C: Now, both of the companies had suffered casualties, and we were not at full strength. But I think combining the two companies, we probably had the strength of one company. And so, we put in to take that hill back. We had to take it back again.
I: Um hm.
C: And so, we fought all afternoon into the night, and finally we took it. We repelled the enemy.
And then the enemy regrouped and made a counterattack. We repelled that attack. A few hours later, they regrouped again, threw more Forces in, and they attacked us again. We repelled that attack. And then about 3:00 in the morning, they mounted another attack. They were determined to take that hill back. And by that time, we had lost, you know, we had suffered casualties.
And we were out of ammunition. Our ammunition had finally gotten up to it, the civilian train, you know, oil man, that they enlisted to bring ammunition up to us. They got to the foothill but not to the main hill.
I: Um hm.
C: And I was trying to get that information, that ammunition over to the machine gunner.
C: And when I took the boxes over to the machine gunner, he was already shot.
And that was it. And I filled in the trench, grabbed a rifle, and the enemy was coming up. And the artillery was shooting flares. And when the flare would float down, you could see for about maybe a minute.
I: Um hm.
C: And then of course, when it went out, it was darker than dark. But when the flare came out on its’ side, I could see the enemy.
And I saw this one enemy stand up and he threw something. And it was a grenade.
C: And that grenade landed right on top of me.
C: I was in the hole this way, and the grenade went over me and landed on my right hip, you know, between me and the embankment.
I: Uh huh.
C: And before I knew it, it went off.
I: Went off?
C: It went off.
C: And I thought I was blown apart. I put my hand in the back, and it just went inside of my body. And from that point on, the enemy came in and overran us. I managed to drag myself out of that hole into
I: After the blow off of the
C: The grenade.
I: And you were able to
C: I was able to drag myself back, I was trying to get off the hill,
Back to another foxhole, and I fell in that. Two men were dead in that. A grenade went off in front, and it blew me partly out and hit me three times in the face. And when I came to, you didn’t know who was who. And I just tried to pull myself up the hill, up the backside of the hill. All I could do was just, you know, kind of scratch and pull.
And we had a little South Korean interpreter in our company. And somebody ran by me. And I stopped him and he turned around and he said cokie, that’s what he called me. Cokie, he said, is that you? I said yes. We gave him the name Bobby.
C: And I said Bobby, in the meantime, I had run in.
As I was taking myself down, sliding down the mountain face forward.
C: I bumped into somebody, another soldier. We bumped into each other.
C: We were both wounded.
I: Uh huh.
C: Bumped into each other, and we were both just trying to get off the hill. And artillery was coming in and small arms firing, and I don’t know how anybody lived through it. But anyway, the little South Korean boy came back, and he grabbed me by one hand,
And he grabbed Tom LaBarge was the other, grabbed him in one hand, and he started dragging us down the mountain while an artillery shell, one of our artillery shells came in and landed close to us, and I was blown one way, and Tom was blown the other way, and we never did see the boy, seen the Korean again. I think it just blew him up. And so, we were still trying to get off the hill.
And Tom Labarge, the other man, we bumped into a hold.
C: That was dug in before. This is an old bunker. And he just, as we crawled up, it just happened to hit him. And we crawled in the side of that.
I: Um hm.
C: And that bunker had a little overhead on it. It was not at the top of the ridge. It was down below the ridge a little bit.
And it had a hold over it. And of course, the weeds had grown up around it. And we crawled in that, and that’s where we spent the next three days.
I: Three days?
C: We spent three days there. And the enemy, we were all, the enemy took the hill, and we were in with the enemy, but they hadn’t discovered us. And I could lay in the middle of the hole, my feet was in the center, and I could see them. And they were building bunkers everywhere.
And at night, they would go out. They’d actually, they’d step across us almost going out as they would go out for their patrols. And then on the third day, a Chinese soldier, he was pilfering the bodies. Let me say this. When we were rescued, one of the men that was on the hill, there was only 18 of them that came off the hill.
C: Eighteen. When they finally found us, we made 20.
But anyway, one of the soldiers was pilfering the bodies. And the reason I knew he was pilfering bodies was because when he came before me, he had an Army 45 with a pistol belt on. And I knew that was either a platoon leader or a platoon Sergeant.
C: And he came up, and he saw me, saw us in the hole. And I actually believe that he got a little more scared than we were at that point.
And we started trying to motion to him give us some water. We hadn’t had any water in three days. Said give us some water, give us some water. And uh, he didn’t respond in a positive way. As a matter of fact, I thought he was gonna shoot us. But uh, my partner and I, we both prayed. There’s an old saying that says there’s no atheist in the foxholes.
And we prayed. And I mean, we prayed out loud right there. And I was laying in that hole. I knew I would be shot first because I was the first one there.
I: Uh hm.
C: Easy. And I was actually flinching as I was praying thinking, waiting for that bullet to hit me. But when we opened our eyes, he had turned around and was walking off. And he walked over to a place where there were about 10 or 12 of them building this bunker.
And I think he went over there and said there’s two still alive. And so, they all started coming in, kind of in a wad coming to us. And they got about halfway from where they started which was about maybe 300’ away, coming toward us. And I said to Tom, I said the whole platoon’s coming to see us now. And our artillery, there were two artillery shells that came in. And I saw this. Two artillery shells came in.
One of them hit right in the midst of them. The other one hit about maybe 20’ over. And it took them out. They didn’t discover us. That night, of course we knew we were gonna die there. So, we said we’ve got to make a try to get out. And so, we did. We managed to get up and crawl out and get, we could hear the water. There was a stream down at the bottom. And we got to the stream, and we drank, and I was wounded again by our own artillery.
And for the next 12 days, we were out in the open in front of the enemy line and back of our line. And that’s where we stayed for 12 days. And finally, one day a patrol came out, an Army patrol, and we were still strong enough to make a noise, and we got their attention. And we were rescued.
I: What is the, do you remember the date when they exploded, run off? When was it, October 8?
C: October 8.
I: And then you spent three days. And then another 12 days. And then finally you were discovered.
C: That’s right.
I: So, after that, where did you go?
C: Well, we went to a Swedish field MASH hospital.
It was a tent in the back where they took us in, cleaned us up as much as they could.
I: Where? In Seoul?
C: No. This was north of Seoul. This was.
C: Yes, north of Uijeongbu.
C: And then from there, they kept us, I think, overnight or a day or so there. And then we went down to the first, 121st Evacuation Hospital in Seoul. I can’t tell you how long I stayed there.
C: And then they took, and they flew us to Japan. And I remember leaving the hospital, but don’t ever remember getting to Japan.
C: And my partner that was with me, they shipped him back to the States, but they kept me in Japan, in the hospital in Japan. And I wound up, I had 40 holes in my body.
I: Just 40, right?
C: Just 40.
I: Gee. So, how was your prayer?
C: My prayer? Well, I made more than one prayer.
C: At one time while I was, after we had escaped the hole and was out the 12 days in between the enemy lines or between our lines, I was laying in a rice paddy, and shock of rice straw, I managed to get my head and my shoulders up onto that, and I was laying there face down. And I made a simple prayer to the Lord again.
And I asked the Lord, I said if you’ll see me through this experience, Lord, I’ll serve you in my life. Well, I was rescued. And I kind of view that as the Lord kind of kept his end of the bargain. And for the last 62 years, I’ve been keeping my end of the bargain. I’ve been a pastor for 62 years.
I: You’re a pastor now?
C: I’m a pastor now.
I preach every Sunday.
I: That was a pretty good bargain. What is your church name?
C: Christian Ministries Worship Center in Leesburg.
Female Voice: (Couldn’t hear)
I: Ah. What a story. You are an example.
Wow. I’m overwhelmed. And I myself am a Christian, too. And I use this metaphor that I am drawing from John Chapter 40 when Jesus was picking up his disciples, Philip introduced Jesus to Nathaniel who was contemplating under a fig tree and saying there’s a rabbi from Nazareth. And Nathaniel replied back to Philip saying what good can come out of Nazareth.
C: Um hm.
I: Yeah. And I say to these veterans when I do an interview that the Korea that you saw in 1950 –’53 was like Nazareth to the (INAUDIBLE) But out of that, South Korea came out as Jesus came out of Nazareth.
C: Yes. Well, the five times that I’ve been back to South Korea, I have preached the gospel from the DMZ zone all the way down to Pusan.
I: Um hm.
C: I’ve held crusades.
I: So, now it’s time. I wish I could have 10 hours with you. Maybe I can revisit you.
C: Well, let me throw this in. My body was filled with maggots from my head all the way to my toes.
I: Maggots, oh boy.
C: I went through surgery three times, and maggots were still coming out of my body.
I: But you lived.
C: The doctor told me, he said, you ought to thank the Lord for that maggot because that maggot helped save your life. It ate the proud flesh up and helped gangrene from setting in.
I: Exactly, yeah.
C: Slimy as they are, I still have a certain amount of respect for them.
I: See, that’s how providence is working.
I: Yeah, how. So, you tell me that it was worth it because.
the population of Christians in Korea now are more than 30%.
I: And now you know Korean, modern Korea, right? Can you compare the Korea you saw in 1950 like Nazareth and now something like Jesus came out of it, something very good.
C: Korea when we went there, it was, they had hardly nothing. There were no roads. They were just little, almost like wagon roads or cow paths.
And the houses were no, thatched roofs, straw and mud walls. That’s about all that you saw there.
C: You go back there today where those little thatched roofs and everything, you’ve got great homes. You got fine, beautiful homes. You’ve got superhighways there. You’ve got very elaborate towns there now.
Modern towns. Seoul is not, Seoul is two towns. You got one on top of the ground and one under the ground, you know. And now you go to Korea, and if you want to catch a bus, you don’t have to wait but about 15 minutes to catch a bus anywhere that you want to go. A super reclining, air-conditioned buses. That’s the difference.
I: Um hm.
C: And they’re competitive. They’ve got a very competitive economic growth in the world right today.
And it’s because of the war. They went over there. But to me, I’m moved. But because of the Christianity part of it, you see.
I: It’s the 10th largest economy in the world right now.
I: Can you believe that?
I: Had you ever imagine that Korea would become like this today?
C: I never, no. They are hard, hardworking people.
I: Um hm. You are the living witness of the whole transformation,
Suffered so much, almost you, I mean, it’s a miracle that you’re still alive, right?
C: I think it’s a miracle.
I: Yeah. With the 50 holes.
I: In your body.
I: So, this is something that we need to teach to our young generation, the legacy of the Korean War and your sacrifice and so on. Why don’t we teach? Why is it known as the Forgotten War?
C: I don’t know.
C: Even when I came back to the States in 1952.
I: Um hm.
C: In ’52, I finished my career as an airman out in California, you could pick the newspaper up back then, you would never see nothing on the front page about the War, maybe some little column stuck way back into the paper. That was back then. That was when the War was still going on.
I: That’s why my Foundation started this. We have more than 1,500. And history teachers of American teachers, they are analyzing this,
And they made the book, the one that I gave to you, okay?
I: And your interview will be analyzed by the teachers and will be written by the teachers for themselves. So, my Foundation’s motto is of the teacher, for the teacher, by the teacher. I believe that education is the best way to keep your legacy.
C: That’s good.
C: The man that was with me, Thomas Labarge, he’s still alive today.
C: Lives in Virginia, was it two years ago that I gave my testimony at my church, three years ago? Three years ago. People had been wanting me to share, you know, my testimony. So, I said alright. I’ll share it. And I chose to share it in my church.
I: Um hm.
C: And Thomas Labarge lives in Virginia now. He came down.
His son came down. His brother came down. His nephew came down. They lived in Minnesota at the time. They came down, and they were in that service when I shared. And at the end of it, I brought tom, the boy that was with me in that experience, came up to speak.
I: From the hole? Three days in the hole?
C: Yeah, he was with me all the way. The boy I bumped into in the dark and we were in the hole together and 12 days out.
I: Hold it up to your chin so that I can put it into and capture.
C: Oh, you got this.
Female Voice: I brought I t.
C: Oh, you brought it.
I: Yeah. But show that to the camera, up your chin.
Female Voice: No, the other side.
I: That one, too.
C: Which one?
Female Voice: This one.
I: So that’s your church.
I: From the Battlefield to the Pulpit.
Well, the Korean people I would say you know, I think the world can thank you for your hard work and for your commitment to your country. I think that you can be proud that your country is honoring the Lord Jesus Christ. And don’t ever forget what took place in your country from 1950 – ’53.
I: What would you say to young generation about the legacy of the Korean War and your service?
C: Well, I hope that the young people will be exposed to what really happened over there and to understand that this country’s a great country. You live in a great country here. And this country gives itself in many different ways for the benefit of the whole world. The Korean War was one of those examples.
I: Sir, it is amazing. You were in the very beginning of the Korean War in the first phase of it.
I: Part of the 1st Cavalry, this is, yeah, I know about that. And I read about it. And you are the living witness. Any other stories that you wanna share?
C: Well, I don’t, I’ll leave some stuff out.
C: War is just a very, very bad evil thing.
I: And the Korean War hasn’t finished yet.
C: No, we’ve still got troops there.
I: Yeah. And China and the US are now colliding again with each other.
C: That’s right, yeah.
I: South China Sea, China Sea.
C: Yes. I went into the DMZ zone in 1995. It was the Korean War Revisit Program. And our military could go in,
And they took us right into Panmunjom where the Armistice was signed at that table. And half of that table sets in North Korea, and half of it’s in South Korea. And we walked around the table. And you had on the north side of the table, you had your Korean sentries that were there. And on the south side, you had the South Koran sentries. And on the North Korean side, they had this big building up where they were, had these propaganda machines.
I: I don’t know how to wrap this interview because I really wish I had more time with you. And maybe I can try later again. But could you pray and end this interview with your prayer for whatever you think right now and for the Korean nation and for the USA and so on? Will you do that?
C: I’ll be happy to.
Our Heavenly Father, in the precious name of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, I come to you right now, and I want to thank you, Our Father, for your many blessings and directions that you had, not only in our personal lives but in our countries. I want to pray for the Korean people. I pray that your grace and mercy and your protecting hand will be upon that nation, Lord.
They are under the threat from the north, Lord. And we know that you’re their real security oh God. Above the military mite they have, you’re the security, oh Lord. And I pray that America will stand by the Korean people. And Lord, this has been a great country. You have raised up a great country here in America. And I pray that you’ll help us to maintain that greatness as we serve you with heart and life. In Jesus’ name, Amen.
I: Amen. Thank you.
I: And you are the Korean War veteran. And I won’t forget this. I remember I had one interview that, with a reverend who became a reverend later.
I: He was a Korean War veteran. I remember it was St. Louis, and I don’t remember that name.
This is not a reminder that God is there and watching over us. And he protected you.
C: Yes, he did.
I: And he gave you the mission, so you have to keep going, right?
C: Yes. And he gave me a long life. And I’m not finished yet. My confession is this, that I’m gonna preach the gospel on my 100th birthday.
I: One hundredth birthday. You gotta invite me. You know where I am. So, you’d better invite me.
Female Voice: (INAUDIBLE)
C: You’re invited now.
I: It’s my honor and pleasure to meet you with your wife. And it’s an amazing story. Amazing grace of the God.
I: And thank you. Thank you for that.
C: And thank you for allowing us to come and share.
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