Glasgow Daily Times, Glasgow, KY

April 21, 2014

Korean War, World War II veterans meet for reunion

By MELINDA OVERSTREET
Glasgow Daily Times

GLASGOW — After more than six decades, the bitter cold is among the things that stand out the most in the memories of some Korean War veterans.

More than a dozen veterans of Korea and World War II reunited Saturday in Glasgow, swapping a few tales, but mostly just enjoying being together.

“We get to see our former comrades. As we get older, there’s fewer and fewer of us that show up so we’re glad to see each other,” said Rollin Shaw.

James Grinstead recalled that his unit arrived in Korea in the winter.

“A good Christmas present, wasn’t it?” he said. “It was cold, but we had good clothes for it.”

Those who were rushed over there in the beginning, Grinstead said, didn’t have appropriate clothing.

“It was bad, I guess, from what they said,” he added.

Ron DeVore said the thing he remembers most, however, is “coming home.” Beyond that it “would almost be tie” between the cold and his time as a prisoner of war.

“It got to 39 degrees below zero where we were,” he said, noting that didn’t count whatever the wind chill factor was. He still has problems with his feet from the frostbite he suffered.

The Korean War veterans all served with the 623rd Field Artillery Battalion, with most from Headquarters or Headquarters Battery and a couple who had been with the A and C batteries. A few had also served in WWII, and they were joined by two men who had fought in WWII, but had finished their service before the Korean War started.

John Vaughn and Harold Hoover are the only ones left of the 68 members of the headquarters troop of the Glasgow-based 123rd Cavalry, which became Battery B of the 106th Battalion that was activated in 1941 as an anti-aircraft unit, W.S. Everett said.

Additional WWII veterans present were Robert A. Lessenberry, James Trigg Pace and Reed Stockton, Everett said.

The luncheon was at Highland Ridge Assisted Living, where one of the veterans is a resident. As the meal was drawing to a close, reunion organizer Everett walked among the tables and introduced each veteran, adding tidbits of additional information about each of the 13 individuals. After they made sure to get a group photo before any of the veterans left, a few lingered and chatted a little longer.

DeVore said he was captured by the North Koreans and held prisoner for about three months.

“It wasn’t good at all, extremely painful,” DeVore said. “They had a mock trial. ... They were hung up on capitalism. I was a ‘capitalist running dog.’ That’s what I was labeled as, and that’s what they tried me as. Those were my charges. I didn’t know what they was talking about, to be honest with you, at the time.”

He had shipped out to Korea on his 18th birthday, he said, and he was only 19 during his time as a POW, he said.

“They found me guilty. I didn’t have anyone to defend me. If I opened my mouth, somebody would slap you on the head. And as punishment for that, I spent four days and nights in a 4-by-4-foot enclosure, like a dog kennel, because if you were a capitalist running dog, you needed to be put in a dog kennel. So they put me in there ... with no food and no water.”

He lost 32 pounds during the course of his time there, DeVore said. He estimated 50 to 60 POWs were there, with a mixture of South Koreans, Americans and some Australians, but no others from his unit.

“We were raided by our own planes. ... For some reason, they raided our encampment, our own planes. And they killed some of our own people, and some of us got away and some didn’t. And that’s how I got out,” DeVore said. “But we were 40 miles behind enemy lines and we had to find our way back. And then you had to be sure not to get shot by your own people trying to get across back to friendly lines.”

Despite all of it, he said, “I’m very proud to have served with the 623rd Headquarters Battery from Glasgow, of course. As you can see today, we’re still a proud outfit. We’re not very fast on our feet, but we’re proud.”

Everett knows of eight others still living who didn’t attend Saturday, and he knew some of those were in ill health and live in other states. Three – Sammy Sears, Ephraim Berry and Ralph Palmore – have “departed” since the last reunion, which was in October 2011, he said.

The others who came Saturday were Keith Norman, Bill Page, William Bowles, Joe Lane Travis and Shaw. The latter two eventually became battalion commanders, Everett said.

Shaw said the thing that stood out the most to him “is the fact that a National Guard unit was as proficient, really, as we were, and even more proficient than a lot of the regular Army.”

“We trained ourselves. When we went to Fort Bragg, we were assigned about 500 draftees, and we assumed that they would train those draftees and the National Guard, but as it turned out, the National Guard people were assigned the responsibility of training the draftees,” Shaw said.

They got another 500 to train after that, and then were able to pick the best of their trainees to go with them, he said.

“As far as I’m concerned, we were a top-notch unit,” Shaw said. “We knew each other and we cooperated with each other and just supported each other. It just made for a good outfit.”