Local brothers killed in the Korean War will be recognized during memorial Day services
By Patricia Beech –
The Korean Conflict is often referred to as the “forgotten war”, but the soldiers who fought, and the families whose sons and daughters did not return from its battlefields will never forget – its devastation was burned into their memories.
Among those who answered the call to serve were two brothers from Peebles – Ralph and Albert King Jr. (known only as Junior to his family and friends). Neither returned home.
Ralph, a veteran of WWII served in the 24th Infantry Division of the 29th Infantry Regiment. His younger brother Junior served in Company G in the 2nd Infantry Division that later in the war suffered severe casualties in the the Battles of Bloody and Heartbreak Ridge.
Ralph was stationed in Okinawa when hostilities began in Korea in June 1950. American troops stationed in Japan were rushed to South Korea to halt the enemy invasion. Most of the young men in the 29th Division had no battle training. They had insufficient weapons, insufficient clothing, insufficient food, and insufficient information about the enemy they were about to face in battle. With great courage and sacrifice, on very short notice, outnumbered and outgunned by a highly-trained and well-supplied enemy they held the line known as the Pusan Perimeter until reinforcements arrived.
In a letter home to his parents, Bert and Janie King, Ralph wrote, “Don’t worry about me and Junior, we’ll be fine, and we’ll be home before you know it.”
However, by July 29, the United Nations Forces found themselves in an increasingly dire situation prompting their commander Lieutenant General Walton H. “Bulldog” Walker to issue a “Stand or Die” order to his division commanders.
“We are fighting a battle against time. There will be no more retreating, there is no line behind us to which we can retreat. There will be no Dunkirk, there will be no Bataan. A retreat to Pusan would be one of the greatest butcheries in history. We must fight until the end. We will fight as a team. If some of us must die, we will die fighting together. I want everybody to understand we are going to hold this line. We are going to win!”
At the time Walker issued the order, the forces under his command were beleaguered and still understrengthed. King’s infantry division had suffered repeated defeats and been systematically forced south by the North Korean forces in extremely bloody battles. Another soldier in King’s Regimental Combat Team reported that they were completely unprepared for the enemies tactics. “We were told they had pitchforks and sickles, and as soon as they saw our uniforms, they’d turn and run,” he said, “But it didn’t work out that way.”
The new recruits arrived unprepared for war, short on mortars and grenades, with weapons that had never been fired. King’s battalion would soon baptized into battle. As they marched north they began to hear rumors about other battalions being wiped out by the enemy. King’s moment of truth came near the ancient city of ChinJu. According to eyewitness accounts,”People were hollering for a medic, hollering in pain, reaching out to their mother, reaching out to God.” The operation failed miserably. The commander ordered a withdrawal which quickly became a rout resulting in hundreds of casualties. On July 31, King and several other servicemen were captured by the enemies. His time on the battleground was over, but he was in no less danger. As the United Nations forces began once again to advance in late October, the North Koreans began marching King and his fellow prisoners north away from the fighting. Hundreds of men died on the trek that came to be known as the “Tiger Death March”. While King did reach the camp, according to his fellow prisoners, he was murdered by his captors on October 20, 1950.
While Ralph was being marched north away from United Nations forces, his brother Junior continued the fight as a member of Company G in the 2nd Infantry Division in North Korea. He had been seriously wounded in early September, and after spending three weeks in the hospital he sat down to write his parents a letter on Oct. 20, the same day his brother was murdered. He writes, “We are behind enemy lines now, so you don’t have to worry, and I don’t have to worry either. I’m not in any danger now.” Unaware that his brother has been murdered, he tells his mother he’s “going to try to find Ralph’s outfit” and asks her to send him his brother’s address.
In November 1950 his unit fought a key battle near the village of Kunuri in North Korea near the Chinese border. The Battle of Kunuri was a part of General MacArthur’s “Be Home by Christmas” campaign, which prompted the Chinese army to cross the border into South Korea and take up the fight against the UN forces.
Charles Rangel, a congressional Representative from New York was among the soldiers who fought with King in the 2nd Division at Kunuri. Rangel told USA Today that he can still see the sky over Korea cloaked in orange from mortar fire, smell the decaying dead bodies of his fellow soldiers, and shiver from the subzero temperatures as though it were yesterday. “It is hallucinating,” Rangel says of his war experience. “You can’t describe tens of thousand of people with guns and bayonets and horns and screaming and yelling, and finding yourself helpless physically and believing that your life is over.” That November would prove to be the month with the most deaths for U.S. forces during the entire conflict, with 3,642 dead. Junior was among them. He was killed November 28, 1950. His body was never recovered. He was officially presumed dead on Feb. 3, 1954, and his name was inscribed on the Courts of the Missing at the Honolulu, Hawaii Memorial. He was awarded the Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, the United Nations Service Medal, the Korean War Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korea War Service Medal.
According to the brother’s niece, Debbie Nichols, of Peebles, their mother never stopped grieving for her lost sons. “She always thought they’d come home, she didn’t want to believe they were gone.”
An article from the People’s Defender dated Feb. 8, 1951, reported, “Mr. and Mrs. Albert King have received official notice from the War Department that their son, Pfc. Ralph King died in a Korean prison camp.” Ralph’s body was recovered during “Operation Glory” in 1954 and returned to his parents. He was awarded the Purple Heart, the Combat Infantryman’s Badge, the Korean Service Medal, The National Defense Service Medal, the Korean Presidential Unit Citation, and the Republic of Korean War Service Medal.
The King brothers will be among those honored during Memorial Day services at the Locust Grove Cemetery on May 29 at 2 p.m.