The Korean War officially ended on July 27, 1953 sixty years ago. They were prisoners of war in the so called "Forgotten War." Under the truce agreement, prisoners of war were to be returned. Decades later it was revealed that about a thousand American POWs were never returned to their country. This is a story of three who made it back home, and one who didn't.
Sgt. Hodges, who was awarded the Silver Star for his heroism in Korea, told of a terrible life in ten by ten huts. "We were crowded and slept on mud floors. We had no haircuts, no shaves, and few clothes. We did get some trousers and jackets in July, 1951. " When asked about medical treatment, the sergeant just shook his head. While in the prison, Hodges dropped from one hundred seventy one pounds down to 90 pounds. Hodges and thirty three hundred other POWs signed an appeal for peace, and act for which he and others were later chastised by the American government. Of that group, half made it out. One thing that kept him going were the letters which starting coming from his wife in October, 1951. Hodges, who had three brothers in the service, said "I'm just happy to put my feet under mama's table in Dublin."
Left to right: In soldier's uniform (tie, with cap) Emerson Burns, center (with tie and hat) Wesley Hodges and right (in dark long sleeve shirt between flags)
Temperatures in the Korean winter often fellow to thirty degrees below zero. Burns (left) recalled that the men were allowed to have a fire in a home-made furnace for about an hour a day. The men lived in mud huts with mud floors. Eventually Burns was stricken with beri-beri, a disease caused by vitamin deficiencies. When truce talks began in 1951, the prisoners were allowed to write letters home. In the long days in the mud huts, Burns dreamed of living in Dublin. He did not know that his parents, Mr. and Mrs. R.D. Burns, had already moved to Dublin. Burns wrote home several times, stating that he was doing as well as could be expected.
Tyrois Odom, another Adrian boy who eventually moved to Laurens County, was a cannoneer in Battery C, 555th Field Artillery. On the night of July 13, 1953, Odom was wounded in the hip during fighting between Kumhwa and Kumsong. "We had been firing pretty regular. We had been hit quite a bit in return. About 1:30 a.m. we got a direct hit. We had to leave our guns and take cover on the side of the mountain, " Odom said. Odom remembered hearing bugles, but had no idea that his position was about to be attacked. His battery was surrounded. All that didn't surrender were killed. The Associated Press called the action "one of the worst massacres of Americans in the Korean War." The artillery was providing support for the South Korean army when three Chinese divisions smashed the U.S. lines from three directions.
Odom was lying down when the attack came. He sat up and saw a Chinese soldier firing. The shots were coming toward him. The little puffs of dirt were getting closer. He whirled around. A bullet hit him in the hip, causing Odom's leg to double up. Odom decided to lay motionless, what he learned as a child as "playing possum." It worked. The Chinese soldiers kept moving, leaving Tyrois lying dead, or so they thought. Two other Americans were dead, each within fifty feet of Odom. Odom and another soldier, Austin, who wasn't wounded, "played possum" for sixty hours. Austin had his helmet kicked off, but didn't move a muscle. The pair survived on a case of c-rations and creek water for eight days. They may have never been detected until an American bomb blast buried them in dirt. "Then we had to move and they captured us," Odom explained. Unable to walk, he was carried by stretcher and truck for several days. He spent only a few days in a camp before the war ended.
After the war, POWs were being released daily. The members of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, under the leadership of R.T. Peacock, Jr., W.M. Towson, Johnny Floyd, Lamar Thornton and W.G. Hanley, and the American Legion, represented by H. Dale Thompson, Harold E. Ward, Murray Chappell, and Horace Hobbs, began plans to honor the hometown heroes with a welcome home parade. A large banner welcoming home the trio was placed downtown. Merchants displayed American flags prominently throughout the downtown area.
A celebration was held on October 2, 1953. It was one of the largest crowds ever assembled in Dublin. Bill Courson was the master of ceremonies. Speaking that day were W.W. Jordan, mayor pro tem whose only son was killed in World War II, and Guy Stone, National Executive of the American Legion. The families of the three men were honored guests at the event.
Albert Arnau Lewis, of Laurens County, served for six years in the United States Army through all of World War II. When the United States entered into the Korean War, Lewis re-enlisted in the Army. Sergeant Lewis, of the 503rd Field Artillery, fell into the hands of the North Koreans and was sent to a prison camp. Word was sent to the American government that Lewis died of pulmonary tuberculosis on April 30, 1951. Nearly three years after his death the truth was revealed about the his death. Lewis did not die from tuberculosis, but from malnutrition. He starved to death. There were no parades for Sgt. Lewis. His name on the war memorial on the courthouse lawn and a short story in The Courier Herald are the only public memorials to the fallen soldier.
This is the story of four unforgettable men of the so called "forgettable war." They are reminders of what we are, or what we should be, as Americans. Let them never be forgotten.
And now, let us remember those Laurens Countians who gave their lives during the Korean War Era: James E. Daniel, Robert H. Grinstead, Roy T. Hughes, Albert A. Lewis, Joseph E. McCullough, T.J. McTier, Walter E. Nesmith, James C. Rix, Bobby Robinson, Ralph B. Walker, Bobby R. Wood, and Lonnie G. Woodum.