I do not play the bugle so any veteran’s farewell from me must come in words. I wrote this tribute to Gene McCoy, Harold Cox and all Korean War Veterans in September 2005. When my friend Gene McCoy passed away February 12 (Lincoln’s birthday), I was reminded of his many years of service to the rest of us about which I had written twelve years ago. Gene told me then he appreciated the bon mots. Because he was such a considerate friend, I am confident he would say the same thing now.
AN UNKNOWN VICTORY
You name the WAR:
Two countries are created from one by the greatest military power in the world and are monitored by the United Nations;
One country led by a ruthless dictator invades the other in spite of the United Nations warnings not to;
The Secretary General of the United Nations declares, “This is a war against the United Nations.”;
A United States President leads a coalition of world leaders to unite to drive the invaders out and re-establish the status quo;
An American general was placed in charge of the United Nations forces;
While many countries offered some help, the American military provided more than half of a million personnel in the war;
The aggressors were driven out of and liberty was restored to the invaded country; and
The mission for which Americans fought and died was accomplished.
If you said The Gulf War of 1990-1991, that is understandable. Almost all Americans supported that war and recognized that victory. However, I am talking about the Korean War of 1950-1953. It too was a great victory for American and United Nations interests and helped prevent World War III. We owe a huge debt to our Korean War veterans.
Two of those heroes (they just hate to be called that but, hey, it’s my column and facts are facts) are Posey County natives and brothers-in-law Harold Cox and Gene McCoy.
Harold fought with the U.S. Army’s 25th Division which suffered many casualties and bore much of the fighting in Korea. Harold was an infantry rifleman and was the jeep driver for his company commander.
Gene was a combat engineer with the Army’s 84th Engineers Battalion and, also, served as a courier/mail deliverer.
Harold was on the frontlines and Gene was building wooden bridges about 1000 yards behind those lines. Gene says Harold had it a lot rougher than Gene.
Both suffered the 20 below zero cold, the stifling heat and humidity, the loneliness, home sickness and fear in what those not there called a “police action.”
Harold said one of his worst memories, outside of dodging enemy mortar rounds for a solid year of combat, was the stench of the human waste the impoverished Koreans would save all winter and fertilize their rice paddies with in the spring. Gene, also, mentioned that nauseating smell and the mud and flooding caused by the lack of vegetation due to constant shelling.
When Gene first arrived in Korea they put his outfit on a train which stopped frequently. Each time it stopped the young soldiers were given a few rounds of ammunition and ordered out to guard the train from sabotage. Gene said this initiation to Korea was more than a little unsettling.
Harold told me that the traffic signs in the war were a bit more to the point than those back home. On one particularly dangerous stretch of road a sign advised:
“Get your ____ in gear and drive like ____! The NK can see you.”
Harold paid attention.
Harold and Gene came home and re-started their lives. Harold served as Mt. Vernon’s Water Superintendent for several years in the 1980’s and1990’s. Gene served as a Mt. Vernon City Councilman and the Posey County Recorder. Gene is (in 2005) currently Posey County’s Veterans Affairs Officer. They both raised families and went on publicly as if there had been no Korean War. However, privately what General Douglas MacArthur called “the strange, mournful mutter of the battlefield” never left their consciousness.
Of course, there was a Korean War and it helped save you and me from another world war. It was a largely unappreciated “mission accomplished.” Thank you Harold and Gene and all your fellow Korean War veterans.
As General MacArthur might have said, both the old song and those it honors quietly fade away:
Sun has set, shadows come,
Soldier rest, your race is run.