Jim Long, stationed on the starboard side of the heavy cruiser USS Helena, gazed through high-powered binoculars at hills in northeastern North Korea.
“I saw the side of the mountain moving,” he recalled Saturday at the Korean War Veterans and POW/MIA Remembrance Day in Chehalis. He called over his superiors. “If you see some smoke there, you will see around it that it is moving.”
He said they later learned of a mock invasion staged by Chinese communists before 120,000 of them surrounded 30,000 U.S. Marines, mostly from the 1st Division, and United Nations forces at the Chosin Reservoir in November 1950. A fierce 17-day battle ensued during one of the coldest winters recorded on the Korean Peninsula.
“We shot 8t-inch, three-round salvos over the side of the mountain with phosphorous to give our Marines a chance to get out,” said Long, who today lives near Adna with his wife, Evelyn.
He spoke about freezing his knees.
“I went out at four o’clock in the morning and there was two foot of snow on the ship, on the stern side,” Long said. Washing down the ship, the water froze quickly, so the men kneeled in long rows, broke the ice, and passed chunks down to throw over the side.
“Well, after 10, 15 minutes, your knees don’t hurt no more because you’re numb,” Long said.
Nearly 15 years later, he said doctors wanted to amputate his legs “and put me on pegs, and I says, ‘No way, I’ll just keep hobbling,’ and that’s what I’ve been doing.”
As I looked around upstairs at the Veterans Memorial Museum, I couldn’t help thinking the many empty chairs validated the Korean War’s moniker as The Forgotten War. My dad served in Korea with the Signal Corps. He and others sacrificed years of their lives to serve their country. They should never be forgotten.
“Korea 65: The Forgotten War Remembered,” a new exhibit by Legacy Washington in the lobby of the Secretary of State’s Office in Olympia, opened Thursday and features photos and stories of a dozen Washingtonians who experienced the war.
Chip Duncan, the museum’s executive director, said that in 2006 he found a small box of photographs from Korea his great-uncle, the family’s black sheep, mailed home.
William Asbury III enlisted in the Marines during World War II under his father’s name, William J. Asbury Jr., because he was wanted by the police in Merced, California. He rose to the rank of corporal serving in the Pacific and China. He returned to California in August 1946, married and fathered a son.
He re-enlisted during the Korean War, where he was assigned as a forward observer with the 1st Marine Division in November 1950, just in time to be surrounded by Chinese in the Chosin Reservoir.
“I never knew cold could hurt so much,” he later told Duncan’s father.
Duncan said his great-uncle, wounded in action June 3, 1951, during the Chinese spring offensive, was evacuated to a MASH unit and received a Purple Heart. A photo after his return to the field shows him with a beard and mustache smoking a pipe. As forward observer, he slipped into the field alone, armed with only a .45-caliber sidearm, and snuck as close to North Korean lines as possible searching for officers.
“He would hunt officers like you would hunt deer,” Duncan said. “Eventually they would go to the bathroom, walk away from everybody, then he’d sneak up on them, draw his .45 and put it to their head, and then he would tell them in Chinese and Korean ‘Come with me or die.’”
He forced his prisoners to strip to their underwear and marched them back to his camp, according to family lore and a photo he sent home.
He later divorced his wife, joined a motorcycle gang and disappeared, popping up occasionally at family reunions. He died of a heart attack in 1993, behind bars in California for poaching deer.
Duncan also discussed his mother’s uncle, Brig. Gen. Crawford F. Sams, a paratrooper and medical officer who served in the China-Burma-India Theater during WWII and, in March 1951, ventured into North Korea on a top-secret mission to see whether bubonic plague had reappeared in Korea but determined it was hemorrhagic fever instead. He earned a Distinguished Service Cross.
Duncan said both the black sheep and the hero in his family deserve to be remembered.
Julie McDonald, a personal historian from Toledo, may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Her commentary appears in The Chronicle every Tuesday.