Korean War veterans honored at fairgrounds
by W. Winston Skinner
“It was a long and hard trip.”
With those words, Coweta veterans Elmer Kendall recalled his time in Korea. Often called “the forgotten war,” Korea was the focus of Muster IV, which concluded with ceremonies at the Coweta County Fairgrounds on Saturday.
Kendall, who said he has rarely talked about his wartime experiences, spoke from the dais at the fairgrounds.
He enlisted in the Army in August 1949. “I couldn’t find a job at home when I got out of high school,” he said.
After basic training at Ft. Knox, Kent., he went to Ft. Lewis, Wash. Kendall was assigned duty as a chaplain’s assistant and sent to Seattle to board a ship for Korea.
The sea voyage was horrendous with the men being kept below decks for the entire 23 days.
The unit arrived in Korea in August 1950. “Coming off the ship, a sniper killed one of our men. From there, we pushed forward in heavy enemy fire,” Kendall said.
Kendall recalled when H Company, with which he had served, was wiped out in battle. He was called to identify as many of the dead as he could. “That was one of the hardest things I ever had to do,” he said.
Assisting the chaplain was not easy duty. They were always at the front lines — “digging foxholes everywhere you go,” he recalled. “It was a scary time.”
Military planning took Kendall to several places in Korea, often in the midst of heavy battle. At the Chinese border, Chinese forces “used their planes to strafe us,” he said.
Chaplain Samuel R. Simpson and Kendall left that area together. “The chaplain was killed sitting next to me in that Jeep,” Kendall said.
Eventually, Kendall had 20-25 men on the Jeep. “Some were living. Some were not,” he said.
He had to unload the dead, including the chaplain, and place the bodies on the side of the road beneath a tarpaulin. “To this day, they’ve never really been covered,” he said.
Kendall recalled coming back home after 18 months in combat. The ship docked in the San Francisco Bay overnight. “We had to lay out there and look at all the lights — longing to put our feet on American soil,” he said.
Malcolm Jackson of the Coweta Commission on Veterans Affairs noted the 1953 Armistice ended the conflict officially, but not actually for people in North Korea and South Korea. “The armistice is a peaceful illusion — meaning the war has never ended for them,” he said.
He noted U.S. troops remain in Korea 63 years later. “The U.S. has not withdrawn its military commitment,” Jackson said. About 50 veterans from the Korea era and their families were seated in a reserved area in front of the dais. Names of each veteran — as well as about 30 others unable to attend — were called by Jackson. The certificates were then presented by veterans Don Harvel and David Jessel.
As he called out the names, Jackson paused to mention Herb Bridges, who died on Sept. 24. Bridges had been planning to attend the muster and had been interviewed about his experiences in Korea. “We honor him today in absentia,” Jackson said.
Special tribute was made to the families of the three Cowetans who were killed during the Korean War — William F. Crawford, Connie Goosby and Robert L. Shavers. Jackson spoke of the bravery of all the veterans present and noted some “paid the ultimate sacrifice to our great nation.”
Jackson said the willingness of veterans to serve guarantees rights to Americans including the right “to peacefully assemble in a place like this.”
“They carried out every task with excellence and in a way that honored their talents,” Harvel said. “The legacy they left will ever be alive and will be remembered by all who knew them.”
Charlie Taylor, Goosby’s cousin, accepted his plaque. Ronald and Stephen Shavers accepted the plaque for their uncle, and Korean War veteran Charles Kennedy accepted the plaque on behalf of Crawford’s family. Each family also received a boxed gift.
Harvel talked about the grief experienced by families who lost someone in war. “You don’t get over it. You just get through it,” he said. “It doesn’t get better. It just gets different. Every day, grief puts on a different face.”
Jayna Poucher of the East Coweta High JROTC rang a bell three times in memory of Crawford, Goosby and Shavers. The program closed with bagpipe music by Michael Scott and Brady Taylor.
Displays of military memorabilia were on tables at the muster. There also were helicopter rides provided by Sky Warriors. “Our primary mission is to maintain and preserve these things,” said Jim Tillman, a volunteer with the group.
“We’re living history,” Tillman said. “We don’t want people to forget.”