Local men played a key role in the Korean War

Local men played key roles in Korean War
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Mount Airy Regional History Museum

On Wednesday, September 6, 1950, buses rolled out of the Veterans Park at Mount Airy and away from the Dobson courthouse, loaded with dozens of men dressed in army uniforms. As part of Battery A, 426th Field Artillery Battalion, they were members of the Surry County Reserve Unit. They were on their way to Fort Bragg to begin training in the use of howitzers for deployment overseas.

These were among the first soldiers to leave Surry County in response to the invasion of South Korea by North Korea on June 25 of the same year. Men and women from across the region would spend the next three years on foreign soil working to prevent the Iron Curtain from covering more territory.

What we know today as the conflict or the Korean War was less focused when it was happening. I’m ashamed to admit that I knew very little about the conflict until I started researching this column. Even though my Mamaw’s brother served there, most of what I knew was from the “M * A * S * H” TV show.

After World War II, the difficult alliance between the Western powers and Stalin’s Soviet Union grew increasingly strained. As the United States implemented its Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe, the Soviets developed their own atomic weapons.

In eastern China, the civil war ended with the rise of Mao Zedong’s communist forces to “resist America”.

Another military invasion was expected but many believed that it would be Soviet troops who would reenter Europe.

It is such a neglected period in our history that it is commonly known as the Forgotten War. As we enter the 70th anniversary of the conflict, we will explore several ways it impacted regional history, as many of the region’s men and women have served in certain ways during this time.

But today we’re focusing on the men who were part of the 426th Field Artillery Battalion who were placed in what was to be the hotspot of an upcoming war, Germany.

Begun as a reserve unit in 1949, three batteries were established in this part of North Carolina; “A” at Mount Airy with a medical detachment and “B” and “C” batteries from Winston-Salem. Most of the men were World War II veterans, according to Robert Holder, one of only two remaining members of the local reserve unit.

Fresh out of high school and working as a clerk at Poore’s grocery store, he was encouraged to join the unit by his good friend, Jack Leach, who also worked at Poore.

“It would be a good experience for me,” Holder recalls in an interview at the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History. “And, you know, it really was. The older men, they took me under their wing and really helped me move forward.

The men were told, wrongly, that they would not be deployed unless a real war breaks out. They were therefore surprised to receive activation papers in August 1950. Many felt that they had served their time away from family and work. Complaints from the men’s families prompted Congressman Thurmond Chatham of Elkin to call for an investigation.

It wasn’t just about men’s families. They were men established in careers and businesses. Two of those who left that September morning were Mount Airy City Police Sgt. James Callahan and Agent Elzvan Marion. Jeffrey Blackmon owned a monument business, his brother Zack was a lineman for Pike Electric. Several were local auto mechanics. Robert Allran was deputy treasurer of the Surry County Credit Union.

In the end, the men were dispatched and served at such an exemplary level that the Department of the Army declared the group to be “the elite of the army’s artillery.” While their accuracy was impressive, capable of reliably dropping an 8-inch round from their howitzers at targets up to 12 miles away, it was their speed and efficiency that seemed to have caught the attention of the brass. .

Once where they were to settle down, Batteries A, B and C were able to unearth and place the enormous cannon, set up cover, communications and other support operations, in less than five hours. The army standard for operations of this magnitude was six and a half hours.

At first, some men planned to bring their families with them to Germany. Jack Leach, who was in Pearl Harbor when he was attacked, explained why they all decided not to do so in a 2004 interview with author Randall Brim.

“I left a wife (Virginia Poore), two small children and a mean little dog,” he said, and it was hard to be away from them. “We found out that they had to have a suitcase with two blankets, three-day rations and three changes of clothes for the house. And the kids who were in school had to have one in school in case the cold war got hot and they would have to get out, who knows where, quickly. That they would have something to take away but you didn’t know where they would go. He took a hiatus, obviously emotional over 50 years later. “Well, that killed that idea really quickly.”

Fortunately for A Battery, the Soviet push never happened, and the men eventually returned home.

Unfortunately, that was not the experience of the many military personnel who served on the Korean Peninsula. We’ll discuss some of their stories in future columns as we mark this all too often overlooked moment. If your family has letters, photos, mementos or other keepsakes from those who served in the Korean War or any other war, the museum would love the opportunity to scan them to further our knowledge of their experiences. and their sacrifices. Contact our curator, Amy Snyder, at aesnyder@northcarolinamuseum.org or 336-786-4478.

Kate Rauhauser-Smith is the director of visitor services for the Mount Airy Museum of Regional History with 22 years of journalism before joining the museum staff. She and her family moved to Mount Airy in 2005 from Pennsylvania where she also participated in museum and history tours. She can be reached at KRSmith@NorthCarolinaMuseum.org or by calling 336-786-4478 x228

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