“Sometimes she finds him weeping
As he lay there in his bed
The distant sounds of battle
Still echo in his head”
The Oak Ridge Boys ~ G.I. Joe and Lillie
Thank you, Veterans. I am forever grateful. Thank you, too, Oaks, for your unyielding support and love for our country and for the brave men and women in uniform.
The 38th parallel, where perhaps 1 million soldiers faced each other across an area boobytrapped with over a million land mines, was the line drawn in the sand during the Korean War. Cross it and a soldier could quickly die in a hail of bullets.
My Uncle Pete (left) was there in the 1950s, stationed just across the 38th parallel. During his entire 26-year career in the U.S. Army, the time he served in Korea was possibly one of the worst times of his life.
Recently, Uncle Pete told Denene and me about standing guard at night, hearing the enemy soldiers on the other side of “the line,” yelling, firing their weapons, and banging on things, an effort to prevent sleep for our soldiers. And suddenly, seemingly out of nowhere, groups of them charged across the line, firing their rifles and pistols in short bursts aimed at the U.S. soldiers. Then they’d run back from where they came. This occurred night after night after night.
He told of having very little to eat except rice. Rice, rice, rice, and more rice. After he left Korea he swore he’d never touch rice again. Just the thought of it turns his stomach.
He recalled nights when soldiers were forced to burn drums of alcohol to keep warm during -60 degree temperatures. They’d remain huddled around those barrels, moving away only to start the tanks every thirty minutes to prevent the grease in the gun turrets from freezing solid. If that happened the tanks would only fire once since the frozen grease would prevent recoil of the tanks’ gun barrels.
He told war tales that would curl the toughest and straightest of toes. Then he switched to stories about other assignments around the world, from different bases where he was stationed throughout his career. His favorites were in Germany and a long term serving at the Pentagon in Washington D.C.
Back then, he said, D.C. was a fun city and his job at the Pentagon was quite rewarding.
On January 20, 1961, Uncle Pete was one of the sixteen thousand U.S. soldiers who marched along Pennsylvania Avenue in President John F. Kennedy’s inaugural parade. It was a proud moment for him when he passed the reviewing stand, seeing out of the corner of his eye, President Kennedy; First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy; the President’s parents Rose Kennedy and Joseph P. Kennedy Sr.; Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson; and Lady Bird Johnson and other dignitaries. He also received an invitation to the president’s inaugural ball. This was a high point in my uncle’s life.
But there were times when things in Washington weren’t so rosy.
In November of 1963, Uncle Pete again marched as a soldier along D.C. streets for President Kennedy. This time, though, the march was for President Kennedy’s funeral procession after he was assassinated.
My uncle has seen and done a lot in his day. He’s been “there” when times were tough, and he’s been practically on top of the world. He’s a fighter. Always has been.