Korean War veterans reunite, reminisce
Story © 1998-2004
Vincent Z. Whaley and the Johnson
City Press, 204 W. Main St., Johnson City,
Tennessee 37605, 423.929.3111.
By Vincent Z. Whaley
City Press Staff Writer
(Published Monday, March 23, 1998)
GRAY, Tenn. Shortly after their field
artillery battalion broke through the critical
Pusan perimeter in 1950, Charles O. Beckett
and Clarence Gingerich decided to take a respite
from the Korean War and get some much-needed
During the night, as they lay in their pup
tent, several North Koreans ambushed their
camp. After a lone bullet pierced their tent,
the two decided they didn't have time to sleep
and rejoined the fight unharmed.
"They like to have scared us to death,"
said Beckett, a 66-year-old Gray resident.
"We wondered if we would ever make it
home again. But we didn't have time to be
scared. We had a job to do."
For one year, the two served in the 3rd "Marne"
Infantry Division, 9th Field Artillery, B
Battery, and were shipped back home in 1951.
Little did they know it would be 47 years
later before they would see one another again,
share fond memories or talk about their wartime
Thanks to countless phone calls and letters
to the editor sent to newspapers in several
states, Beckett's wife, Anna, located Gingerich
in November, and he and Beckett immediately
planned a reunion date.
On Saturday, Beckett and Gingerich, 68, Bunker
Hill, Ind., were reunited at Beckett's Old
Stage Road home, along with Samuel R. "Ralph"
Finley, 65, Greenville, S.C. a fellow
soldier who served in the 9th Field Artillery's
"Clarence and I met in Fort Benning,
Ga., in 1949, and we shipped out together
at sea for Korea in August of 1950 and landed
in Pusan, South Korea," Beckett said.
"The Army was afraid saltwater would
rust the guns 155mm howitzers
on the trip over, so they covered them in
Cosmoline, which is a thick oil. After we
got to Pusan, we pulled the guns into a schoolyard
and got them cleaned up. Then we got on a
little train to Taegu. The guns were taken
to Taegu ahead of us so they would be ready
Gingerich remembers well the docking at Pusan,
which he said was originally an unplanned
"During that time, we were supposed to
land in Japan, but the United Nations discovered
that the North Koreans were going to attack
Pusan and they were going to take it,"
he said. "So they changed the orders
and we didn't land in Japan. We went straight
to Pusan and landed on Aug. 25, 1950.
"They only gave us three days to prepare
for the front line. They needed our artillery
to break up the tanks and soldiers there.
We had six guns per battery and there were
three batteries Able, Baker and Charlie.
The shells weighed 95 pounds each. Then, three
days later, we were up in what they called
the 'Bowling Alley Battle' near Taegu."
Although Beckett and Gingerich never met Finley
during the war, Finley located Beckett's name
in some old orders from the war and contacted
him in 1996. The two have been close friends
While the three all suffered malaria several
times during and after the war, Finley was
the only wounded in battle, thus the only
recipient of the Purple Heart award.
A 155mm shell exploded inside a howitzer when
a safety latch failed to work. Two men
one a South Korean soldier assigned to the
battery, the other an American were
killed, and Finley and three other American
soldiers were wounded. Finley spent 57 days
in the Osaka, Japan, Army Hospital recovering
from shrapnel lodged in his stomach, side
and head and powder burns to the face.
Nevertheless, Finley said he is proud of the
battalion and division in which he served.
"In the beginning, China was not in the
war," he said. "The North Koreans
were the enemy. We were one of the first outfits
from the states to be sent to Korea. The 9th
Field Artillery was one of the first outfits
from the states to get involved in the Korean
War. Also, the 9th Field Artillery Battalion
supported every division including
all of the Republic of Korea or ROK divisions
in the campaign except the 7th Infantry
Beckett, Gingerich and Finley said they have
considered revisiting their old stomping grounds;
Finley said it would be nice to revisit Korea
in 2000 the 50th anniversary of the
While death, destruction and sorrow epitomize
any war, Finley said he has a few nice memories
of the Korean War.
"The 9th FA's A Battery was first set
up in an apple orchard," Finley said.
"The Army told us not to eat the apples,
because the North Koreans occupied that territory
and may have poisoned the apples.
"But after we got our equipment set up,
all of us picked that apple orchard to death.
The apples were really large and probably
some of the best I have ever eaten."
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