View Full Version : The Forgotten War remembered in Bandera

06-01-05, 09:01 AM
The Forgotten War remembered in Bandera
By Jessica Hawley - Lifestyles Editor

Lying face down in the snow, surrounded by heavy artillery fire and an open wound that left him paralyzed, Private First Class Joseph Correa knew that if anyone tried to help him, it would be tantamount to suicide. The 21-year-old remained still, praying that the Chinese soldiers who were trying to kill him would advance, believing in a job well done.

"I laid there for what I thought was a long time," Correa said. "I felt something build up inside of me and get cold. I was bleeding out and freezing."

Born in San Antonio the son of a sharecropper, Correa always knew he would serve his country in a military uniform.

"As a boy, I learned about the defenders of the Alamo, and, like all boys, I fantasized that one day, just as Colonel Travis' men had, I too would fight for a just cause," Correa wrote in a memoir.

On June 15, 1949, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserves. One year later, his unit, C Company 20th Infantry Battalion, was activated. Correa prepared for departure to the Pacific as part of the 1st Replacement Draft in the Korean War.

After its liberation from Japanese rule, the nation of Korea was divided by the leading powers of the Cold War, the U.S. and Soviet Union. The U.S. established government in South Korea, below the 38-degree latitude, and the Soviet Union established government in North Korea, above the 38-degree latitude. The allies wanted to unify Korea as an independent country, but North Korean Communist General Secretary Kim II-Sung refused to participate, instead planning unification under his own political agenda.

On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces carried out a surprise attack on South Korea. American and allied forces defended South Korea under the command of General Douglas MacArthur.

Correa docked at Wonsan Harbor on Nov. 7, 1950, and joined the 1st Marine Division north of the 38th parallel. There, he was reassigned to Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marine Regiment on the front line during what was the coldest winter in Korea's history.

The wartime policy stipulated that a new man be assigned with one already experienced in combat. Correa teamed with Corporal Kenneth Duhr, who had been on the front line since the war opened.

"We were on an outpost on the first night, and Duhr asked me if I wanted to guard for the first watch," Correa said. "Two hours came and went and I didn't wake him up. At 2 a.m., flares went up along the perimeter [of our camp]. Duhr saw the light and whispered, 'Don't shoot.' He said the enemy was trying to figure out where we were. A greenhorn would have shot and given away his position. You don't jump into it like the movies."

All was quiet for the next several days. Dog Company received orders to move north, into the interminable ice-capped mountains. There were rumors that North Korea was getting help from the Communist Chinese. On Nov. 26, contact with North Korean forces aided by an estimated 120,000 Chinese was made and combat ensued.

"This was the first time that I saw the enemy face to face and with my rifle leveled at one of them, I froze. The thought flashed through my mind that the man in my sights looked just like my dad and I could not pull the trigger," Correa remembered. "My buddy, Santos Cavazos, seeing what was happening, shot and killed the enemy soldier instantly."

The fighting continued from early morning into late afternoon, until Correa's unit was ordered to withdraw.

"We lost several men that day," Correa said. "Corporal Duhr was killed."

That night, Correa and Cavazos were assigned watch overlooking the valley to Yudam-ni where North Korean and Chinese troops were purportedly headed. Bitter winds and subzero temperatures ripped through their exhausted, traumatized bodies as they struggled to stay alert.

"We were up on the hill to watch for the enemy on the perimeter. I was with my buddy Santos and the moon was so beautiful," Correa said. "The weather was 30 degrees below zero. We had no water, no food. Everything was frozen. We had to keep our weapons close so they wouldn't freeze."

Early the next morning, more rumors that opposing forces were en route to Yudam-ni spread. Dog Company received its orders to climb to the crest of what later became known as Hill 1240 at the Chosin Reservoir. The historic battle began at dawn and continued beyond nightfall. A bullet grazed Correa's cheek and he received shrapnel wounds on his right wrist and shoulder. A Navy Corpsman bandaged him and sent him back to the line.

"Anybody who could walk and had limbs was told to go back up that hill, " Correa said. "We took that hill three times. It was like a dream."

After the battle on 1240, Dog Company 7th Marines was no longer a company of strength. Too many men died, others were seriously wounded. Correa was separated from his comrades in the chaos. On his way down the hill, he found his platoon Sergeant John Christianson lying injured and bloodied. Correa grabbed him by the hood of his parka and dragged him to an aid station. He later learned that Christianson lost his leg, but survived.

Correa joined other Marines who were withdrawing on the road to Yudam-ni toward the sea. One temporary force was established from the remnants of several companies that had incurred massive losses. The marines marched through Yudam-ni and 14 more miles south to Hagaru-ri as per MacArthur's orders. Their withdrawal was treacherous and hostile as Chinese troops mercilessly fired upon them.

"[The Chinese] concept was to kill everyone," Correa said. "We'd move maybe a block or so and they were already waiting for us."

Once in Hagaru-ri, Correa and his makeshift unit took a brief respite. There, they savored cooked food and fresh water.

"Our main purpose was to stay warm and keep from freezing," Correa said.

On Dec. 5, new companies were mustered and refurnished with equipment. Each soldier carried two to three pairs of socks. After walking and sweating, despite temperatures of 20-30 degrees below zero, Correa would change his wet socks for his dry ones, placing the wet garments in his armpit until the next shift.

The next day, at 3 a.m., the division began its push to Koto-ri at the south end of the Chosin Reservoir. Correa's squad leader sent flank guards to scout the railroad tracks that ran parallel to the road and veered to the right. Instead of walking on the inside slope of the tracks, they were in plain view on the railroad ties. Correa was sent to tell the guards to take cover when sudden firing began.

"I hit the deck," Correa said. "It seemed as though I was the only target for them to shoot at. I started to move toward a snow bank about a foot high, but I didn't make it. I felt a blow to my body. There was no pain but I was paralyzed from the chest down."

A corpsman began inching his way through the heavy gunfire toward Correa. He dragged him to a bamboo hut for protection and to assess his injury.

"He was looking for the wound and all I could think about was my feet," Correa said. "We were drilled to change our socks or your feet will freeze. I pleaded with the corpsman to change my socks."

Later discovery would note that a bullet entered his body through his left pelvic area and exited below his right rib. He sustained temporary paralysis, damage to his large intestinal tract and lost eight inches from his small intestinal tract.

Most of Correa's memories are vague and scattered between Dec. 6 and 24. He recalled that his ambulance was ambushed and two injured marines already on board were shot and killed instantly.

"They pulled me out of the ambulance," Correa said. "I have no idea what happened to me after that."

During a reunion in San Antonio 39 years after the war, Correa was told that three marines, Juan Balleza and Rudy Aquilar of San Antonio and Donald Theobold, of San Jose, Calif., found him on the side of the road wrapped in a zipped sleeping bag on Dec. 9 - three days after he was hit.

"The only conclusion I can come to is that the drivers probably thought I was dying and they needed to make room for someone less seriously injured," Correa said.

He remained at the Naval Hospital in Okinawa, Japan until March of 1951. From there, he was flown stateside to Travis Air Force Base in Oakland, Calif.

"I was back in the U.S.," Correa said, who weighed 89 pounds upon his arrival - a 76-pound difference from his usual build.

Correa was medically discharged from the Marine Corps on March 13, 1952. He was awarded the Purple Heart with one star, the Korean Service medal and the United Nations medal.

A cease-fire was established in Korea on July 27, 1953. Approximately one million South Koreans were killed during the three-year conflict. An estimated 85 percent of those casualties were civilians. According to figures published in the Soviet Union, more than 1.1 million North Koreans and 500,000 Chinese soldiers died. U.S. troops suffered more than 54,000 fatalities.

A demilitarized zone remains intact at the 38th parallel. It continues to be defended by North Korean troops on one side of the border and South Korean troops, reinforced by U.S. troops, on the other.


06-08-05, 06:10 AM
Fremont man, at 71, awarded the Purple Heart
Korean War veteran gets medal 50 years after being hit in the shoulder with shrapnel, then returning to battle
By Ben Aguirre Jr., STAFF WRITER
Inside Bay Area
FREMONT Enemy gunfire surrounded Marine infantryman Alford Paraz and his comrades as Chinese forces attacked their base, Combat Outpost Vegas in northern Korea, during a March 26, 1953, battle in the Korean War.

"I saw the napalm go off, and I knew they were coming in the trenches," said the 71-year-old Paraz, a 15-year Fremont resident who recently received his Purple Heart for being wounded in combat.

He grabbed his Barrington automatic rifle, took his place on the main line of resistance and fended off enemy troops as Navy medic James "Doc" Ferris dragged injured soldiers to safety.

At one point, Paraz helped Ferris carry one wounded man, and that's when Ferris noticed Paraz was bleeding.

"I lifted up his shirt, and he had shrapnel in his shoulder," Ferris, 77, said in a phone interview from his family's car dealership in New Philadelphia, Ohio. "It wasn't just a scratch it hit him pretty good."

Paraz, who was nicknamed "Toto" because of his small stature, remembered being hit but didn't think the injury was serious. He refused to go to the aid station and told Ferris, "They need me out there," he said.

Ferris then removed the metal pieces from Paraz's shoulder and patched him up.

"We were being hit so hard, we needed as many men as we could get," Ferris said. "He's a good soldier he fought his heart out. He was a very valiant, get-up-and-go Marine."

When the gunfire ceased days later, Paraz and Ferris were two of only seven survivors of the 265 members of Howe Company who fought in the battle, they said.

They've reunited in recent years, and in October, Ferris wrote a letter to the Department of Veterans Affairs recommending Paraz for the Purple Heart.

In his letter, Ferris detailed the incidents of March 26, 1953, and urged the government to recognize Paraz.

A copy of the letter also was forwarded to Democratic U.S. Rep. Pete Stark's office in Fremont, and late last month Paraz received his Purple Heart.

"All right!" Ferris exclaimed.

Meanwhile, Paraz, who left the Marines in 1962 and has been working for Kragen Auto Parts in Irvington for the last 15 years, said it feels good to be acknowledged but said he's not special.

"I'm no hero, man," Paraz said with a laugh.


06-16-05, 09:09 AM
We lost 33,000 soldiers, then Korea faded away
The forgotten war got lost between WW II, Vietnam

Published June 16, 2005

WASHINGTON -- The time has come once again to remember "the Forgotten War."

But will we?

Next week is the 55th anniversary of the start of the Korean War -- when North Korean troops and tanks suddenly poured across the 38th Parallel into South Korea and in a few weeks nearly drove U.S. forces into the sea.

Three years of bitter fighting followed, at a cost of more than 33,000 American lives, until a truce was signed and South Korea saved.

Yet, except for some celebrations on the 50th anniversary, and a since deteriorated monument on the National Mall here, the conflict remains mostly a blip on the national memory.

Filmmakers are still producing new movies about World War II and Vietnam. Of Korea, we can point to, what? "Pork Chop Hill," "The Bridges at Toko-Ri" and "M*A*S*H," which was made 35 years ago.

There have been a few books written on Korea in recent years, and they all seem to have been written by Parade magazine columnist James Brady. His "The Coldest War" was a history; "The Marines of Autumn," a novel about his extraordinary company commander, later Sen. John Chafee, an unsung hero of World War II and Korea. Though optioned as a movie, it was never made.

Familiar to most now as a chronicler of celebrities, fashionistas and the moneyed set, Brady volunteered for the Marines in 1951 and served in Korea as a combat platoon leader.

A new book

Now he's out with another book, "The Scariest Place in the World," which is about his return two years ago to the scenes of Korean combat a half-century after the war.

"I was sending up a shout of defiance at age and illness," said Brady, now 76 and largely recovered from a stroke. "It was to essay one last adventure, turning back calendars in search of a lost youth, a 23-year-old kid lieutenant, on the crest of the North Korean hills one last time."

The return didn't quite turn out as expected.

I was interested in the book for a compelling personal reason. I served as a draftee soldier in Korea in the mid-1960s and, like a few of my comrades, yearned instead to be in Vietnam. If I was going to have to give up two years of my life to be a soldier, I thought it should be where there was some fighting going on and I might accomplish something.

My request for a transfer was turned down. Later, it dawned on me I would have made a mistake. Vietnam proved a colossal disaster. Keeping the North Koreans out of South Korea allowed the latter to achieve extraordinary prosperity and even democracy.

I asked Brady if he felt the same.

"Was the war worth fighting?" he said. "Yes, for all the large political and economic reasons. Was it worth fighting for me? Yeah. Because I went from being a fairly routine kid out of Brooklyn to becoming an officer in the Marines and in combat there and doing a pretty good job. I made friendships that have sustained me for 50 years afterward, so I gained a great deal."

Can he explain why it's so forgotten?

"It got lost between the great historical event of the 20th Century, which was World War II, and Vietnam, which was a much more political and bitter event in this country," he said. "I wouldn't mind if it was forgotten, if we had learned a few lessons from it."

Mixed reviews

Returning to Korea, Brady found that most older South Koreans are still very grateful to the U.S. for having saved them from the North. Many younger Koreans, however, now view America as an enemy, he said.

"I met an American Army colonel there who had been stabbed by three young university types just walking on the streets of Seoul," he said. "There's a lot of anti-American feeling. One story widely circulating among younger people while I was there was that America had begun the Korean War by attacking North Korea."

A major goal of Brady's return was to revisit the summit of Hill 749, a long-forgotten elevation that he and his Marines struggled with the enemy over for month after bloody month.

It took some doing to make arrangements, and for a 70-plus-year-old stroke victim to ascend the forbidding height. I should have thought it might have a profound effect on him, to stand there again on that windy height where he and his friends had fought -- and some died.

But the result was different, and even more profound.

"I don't know what I expected to find, but, whatever I expected, I didn't find it," he said. "The barbed wire had rusted away. The trenches had disappeared over the years. But it wasn't the physical changes in the hilltop. It was the absence of men. There were no Marines up there. It wasn't the place I remembered. It was a different place."

Our greatest threat

Brady is deeply bothered by another aspect of modern-day Korea that undercuts my notions of a successful American venture. With its growing nuclear potential, North Korea probably poses the biggest threat to American lives and security today. Even with conventional weapons, it could launch a disastrous attack on South Korea that the U.S. would be powerless to stop.

"This country doesn't seem to have a clue how to handle the North Koreans," he said. "It's a tiny little country, totally impoverished, and yet it has an army two and a half times the size of our own."

The struggle in Korea differs from Vietnam in another way.

"It isn't over," Brady said.