On Wednesday, America will mark the 58th anniversary of the end of the Korean War, the nation’s “forgotten war” so famously described by Gen. Omar Bradley as “the wrong war, in the wrong place, at the wrong time, with the wrong enemy.”
The war that began when troops of the North Korean Peoples Army swept across the 38th parallel on June 25, 1950, invading South Korea, ended in armistice on July 27, 1953. It lasted just 37 months, yet it claimed the lives of 54,246 Americans — nearly as many as died in a decade of war in Vietnam.
The impressive Maine Korean War Memorial at Bangor’s Mt. Hope Cemetery, where a ceremony marking the anniversary is planned, lists the names of 245 Maine men killed in the war or missing in action and presumed dead.
Five Mainers who fought in Korea were awarded the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest military decoration for actions above and beyond the call of duty: Marine Corps Cpl. David B. Champagne of Waterville, Army Cpl. Clair Goodblood of Fort Kent and Burnham, Army Sgt. George D. Libby of Bridgton, Air Force Maj. Charles J. Loring Jr. of Portland and Army Capt. Lewis L. Millett of Mechanic Falls. All except Millett received recognition posthumously. Their citations are detailed by the Congressional Medal of Honor Society at www.cmohs.org.
Cpl. Champagne led his 1st Marine Division platoon through concentrated fire, overrunning trenches and near-impregnable bunkers to take a strategic enemy-held hill. In the ensuing counterattack, he attempted to throw back an enemy grenade that exploded, blowing off his hand and throwing him from his trench, where he was mortally wounded by enemy fire.
Cpl. Goodblood was a machine gunner with Company D, 7th Infantry Regiment in fighting near Popsu-Dong April 24-25, 1951. As his unit withdrew in the face of overwhelming enemy force, Goodblood covered the retreat. When a grenade landed nearby, he shielded the body of his assistant. Both men were wounded. Ordering his ammo bearer to evacuate the assistant gunner for medical treatment, Goodblood “fearlessly maintained his one-man defense, sweeping the enemy with fire until an enemy all-out charge carried the hill and silenced his gun,” his citation reads. “When friendly elements regained the ground, Cpl. Goodblood’s body was found lying beside his gun, and approximately 100 enemy dead lay in his field of fire.”
Sgt. Libby was killed in action July 20, 1950, near Taejon while serving with the 3rd Engineer Combat Battalion, 24th Infantry Division. Devastating enemy fire disabled the truck in which Libby and others were riding, killing or wounding all passengers except Libby, who took cover, engaged the enemy, administered aid to his wounded comrades, hailed a passing artillery tractor and helped the wounded aboard. As the enemy directed intense small-arms fire against the vehicle’s driver, Libby, realizing that no one else could operate the vehicle, placed himself as a shield between the driver and the enemy while returning fire. The vehicle made several stops to pick up wounded. Libby, himself wounded, refused first aid, helped the men aboard and continued to return fire while shielding the driver until losing consciousness.
Maj. Loring — for whom the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone was named — was awarded the medal for his heroic action of Nov. 22, 1952, near Sniper Ridge in North Korea while leading a flight of four F-80 aircraft of the 8th Fighter-Bomber Wing on a dive-bombing run on enemy gun positions. When his plane was hit and disabled by intense fire, Maj. Loring deliberately altered his course, according to the award citation, and “elected to sacrifice his life by diving his aircraft directly into the midst of the enemy gun emplacements.”
Capt. Millett of Company E of the 27th Infantry Regiment led a savage bayonet charge up an enemy-held hill near Soam-Ni on Feb. 7, 1951. “Despite vicious opposing fire, the whirlwind hand-to-hand assault carried to the crest of the hill,” his citation reads, in part. “His dauntless leadership and personal courage so inspired his men that they stormed the hostile position and used their bayonets with such lethal effect that the enemy fled in wild disorder.”
In his book “Chosin,” published by Vanguard Press, author Eric Hammel writes of “the common, ordinary, suffering, groaning, bitching, wisecracking, duty-bound, fearful, terrorized men” who fought so valiantly in Korea, where there seemed always to be one more hill to climb. Surely, for those of the noble breed who survive nearly six decades later, few dates in their lives remain as memorable as July 27, 1953.
BDN columnist Kent Ward lives in Limestone. His email address is email@example.com.