Local veterans share memories of war

WHEELING – It’s been 62 years since Robert McColloch fought in the Korean War, and he still has nightmares about it.

“Now and then something will bring it back. You’re dealing with killing people and trying to stay alive and keep from being killed yourself,” McColloch said. “For 20 year olds, it’s a frustrating situation. It was very scary. People are not only shooting at you, but they’re dropping bombs on you – you’re getting it from both ends.”

McColloch, 84, of Wheeling was a corporal in the Army. He was a member of Company E, 23rd Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division, having served in Korea from July 1952 to August 1953. A combat infantryman, McColloch operated a Browning automatic rifle. He fought during the battle of Old Baldy and received the Combat Infantry Badge.

“When we first got there, that was the worst. We were fighting for this hill … and the Chinese wanted it badly,” McColloch said, adding a majority of two platoons had already been killed when he arrived. “When you get into that situation it doesn’t do a lot for your confidence. We were put into this Company E to take the place of those people. They put us on the hill and said, ‘your job is to not allow them to take this hill.’ That’s what we did. We did the job, but it was scary.”

McColloch witnessed friends get injured and killed. He believes he survived because of luck or God’s will.

“I didn’t have a leg blown off or my guts blown out. We’re talking 17-year-olds and some older guys who got hit bad. The first thing you hear from them is them calling to their mother and, man, that tore you up,” McColloch said.

“It’s something no one should have to go through, but here we are still fighting wars. If more people knew how horrible it is, maybe they would be less inclined to ‘rah rah’ war,” he added.

McColloch said South Korea is a beautiful country today because of the sacrifices soldiers made there.

“If it hadn’t been for the Chinese, it would be all south,” he said. “The Chinese came in and overwhelmed us. Before I got there they about destroyed the 2nd Infantry Division.”

Shadyside resident Richard Ross, 85, was a sergeant in the Army and served in Korea from July 1952 to June 1953. He was drafted at 20 years old. He earned the Combat Infantry Badge with two ribbons. His job was to shoot 60mm mortars at the enemy. A squad leader in a Rifle Company, Ross said he belonged to one of the luckiest companies in the war. During one major battle, Ross’ company took on 10,000 incoming rounds in one night. It wasn’t until later that he discovered an unexploded mortar was atop his bunker.

“Before I went into the Army, I had never been away from home. I didn’t get a chance to get homesick. You had to be on guard all the time. … It’s an experience you never forget,” Ross said.

Ross said he was lucky to survive and lucky he did not have to see anyone die.

“I was proud I served. I did what they told me to do and I made out all right,” Ross said.

The South Koreans “appreciate what we did for them. Of course it cost a lot of lives – 38,000 Americans were killed in that war.” He said since the 1953 cease fire, there have been 2,000 U.S. soldiers killed in Korea and another 90 captured or lost.

Charles Hare, 86, of Wheeling was drafted into the Army during World War II at 18 years old. He also served in Korea and Vietnam and after 28 years of service, he retired a lieutenant colonel. He was a member of Company F, 187 Airborne Infantry, Regimental Combat Team. He received the WWII Victory Medal, United Nations Medal, Korea Peace Medal, Combat Infantry Badge, Purple Heart, Parachute Badge and Good Conduct Medal.

Hare said he performed six jumps while serving in Korea.

“I had a close call when I landed on another guy’s chute. Other than that it was … scary. It was a good feeling to come down and hit the ground,” he said.

Hare said he stayed in the military because he enjoyed it – until he got into combat.

“For five years I was an instructor at West Virginia University ROTC. It was a good assignment. I had no trades and I had family, so after my first couple enlistments I thought I might as well stay. I didn’t make a lot of money, but I made a lot of friends and I saw a lot of the world,” Hare said.

John Lucas, 88, of Valley Grove was a sergeant in the Army and served during World War II in Germany. His medals include the Unit Presidential Citation, Good Conduct Medal, American Theater Medal, European Theater Medal with Battle Stars, Rhineland and Central Europe, World War II Victory Medal, Army Occupation Medal Germany, Sharp Shooters Rifle, Drivers and Mechanics Badge Wheel and Track.

Lucas said he was a senior at Bellaire High School when he was drafted in September 1943.

“I could have been deferred, but I thought the Army needed me more than Bellaire High,” Lucas said, adding 120 men left Bellaire for the service the same day.

Lucas was part of the 482nd Anti-Aircraft Battalion of the 9th Armored Division.

“I was pretty lucky. Infantry is real tough and anti-air is tough enough,” he said. “I had some close calls. It’s tough – I was pretty lucky. I don’t tell many stories because they’re really bad. … There are better things to be discussed than fighting a war. … The young always suffer in the war. Young men have to go fight really and take care of the country in time of war.”

Lucas said to help keep their spirits up, the men tried to enjoy any little spot of humor they could on the battlefield. For example, during one situation on a farmer’s land, one soldier ended up covered in cow manure because he could not avoid the cow patties while crawling across the field.

“You had to laugh at almost anything because things weren’t real good,” Lucas said. “That was the hardest I had laughed in a long time.”

Lucas said when he came home after the war, he had a difficult time finding a job. One company, he said, told him though he was 20 years old he was not old enough to work for them, despite having just fought in a war.

Lucas said he used to attend reunions, but because so many WW II veterans have passed away there has not been a gathering in about eight years.