American troops have repeatedly answered their nation’s call to service in numerous wars and conflicts around the globe. War is never easy and never without the sacrifices of those who wear the uniforms of the United States. Each conflict is characterized by its own peculiar cause, diplomatic posturing, and the specific duties accomplished by American military men and women. One of this nation’s most bitter conflicts saw United States troops taking the lead in fighting with United Nations forces when North Korea tested the Allies’ post WWII diplomatic agreement to prevent North Korea from military action spreading communism below the 38th parallel. When North Korea initiated aggressive action, the United Nations forces responded. In addition to the burden of supporting the UN forces, American soldiers faced the harsh climate of the region, the smoldering resentment of the North Korean people, and the unusually rough terrain which, if the UN efforts were to be successful, had to be conquered largely through American ingenuity and determination. Isolation and hardship proved no match for these men in this conflict which saw over 33 thousand killed and over 103 thousand wounded. Perhaps even worse was the fact that over 2,000 men suffered horrendous treatment and deprivation as prisoners or war/MIA. The entire UN command losses totaled over half a million with some 95,000 dead. The UN command forces, however, inflicted even heavier losses on the Communists with enemy casualties exceeding 1,500,000 including over 900,000 Chinese enemy soldiers.
Jackson Countians were among those called to serve. A recent times article featured the story of Alfred Russell McMillan who endured the torture inflicted upon those unfortunate enough to be captured in this conflict. Men like him paid the price and managed to survive the atrocities of being a prisoner of war under this enemy who seemed to have no capacity for humane treatment. Others also actively served the cause of freedom and are able to share with us the story of their experiences.
Dr. Robert Ellis Ringer, well-known retired professor from Chipola College, is a veteran of the Korean War. Dr. Ringer has distinct memories of this hard fought war and speaks of it with vivid recall.
Dr. Ringer enlisted in the National Guard at Jacksonville, Alabama on May 12, 1948. He was completing his third year at Jacksonville State College and had several friends who were members at Company H. 167th Infantry Regiment of the 31st Dixie Division.
During the summer of 1948, Ringer went bt train from Jacksonville to the National Guard training camp at Fort Benning, Georgia. The training was basic infantry drill and weapons familiarization. In January of 1949, Ringer accepted employment with the DeKalb County Board of Education as a science teacher at Valley Head High School. This move made it necessary for him to transfer his guard membership to the Fort Payne unit, Company C, 151st Engineer Combat Battalion. While assigned to this unit, he attended drills at City Hall during the winter and spring of 1949.
During the spring of 1950, Ringer passed examinations and applied for attendance at a 12-week demolition school at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. Ringer was not able to attend this school due to an indefinite postponement of that appointment.
The Korean War started on June 25, 1950. The personnel of the 151st Engineer Combat Battalion were notified to report for federal duty on August 07, 1950. Dr. Ringer’s unit was the Charlie Company and they reported to the post at Fort Payne, Alabama. They began preparations to enter the federal service on August 14. Dr. Ringer says soon thereafter they were in rigorous training at Fort Campbell, and by December, they were engaged in what he referred to as “POM” (Preparation for Overseas Movement). At this time, all of the sole surviving sons were transferred out of that unit. The motor vehicles were made ready with antifreeze for 45 degrees below zero Fahrenheit. Shortly after New Year’s Day in 1951, the 151st marched through the Kentucky snow to board a troop train as the Post Band played “Good Night, Irene”. Later that January, they boarded the “Marine Phoenix”, a troop ship at Seattle, and set sail as another band played “Good Night Irene”. Ringer says “Irene was a Goddess of Peace of the Greeks, and I felt like peace was gone, that we probably ought to be thinking about Ares, who is the Goddess of War. I felt like peace was gone after World War II.”
Soon after that, they were in Pusan where they were greeted with yet another band playing their rendition of “Good Night, Irene”. While waiting at Pusan for their heavy equipment to catch up, they were assigned the task of building pre-fab units for a POW hospital. Soon they left in a motor convoy for the I corp sector near Seoul. The first action they saw was with the 58th Engineer Treadway Company which bridged the PUK HAN River for the 27th Regt. Ringer says “This bridge was about 320 feet long and was completed in seven hours and twenty minutes.”
In mid-March, they bridged the Han at Seoul, a task which took 37 hours. Ringer says, “When we finished, we had been on duty for 72 continuous hours and had an 880 foot long bridge to show for it. After several liter laden jeeps came across the city, our bridge was tested by several platoons from the 64th Heavy Tank Battalion along with some pieces from a field artillery unit. “
Dr. Ringer says the best Christmas present he ever received was on December 25 when he received his orders to return to the states. He and his other members left on December 26th for the United States, having New Year’s dinner on the high seas off Inchon.
Ringer states, “In many ways, this war was a traumatic and momentous chapter in American History. Americans fought in this war nearly three times as long as they fought in World War I and almost as long as they fought in WWII. This conflict began on Sunday, June 25, 1950 and ended three years, one month, and two days later when a military armistice agreement was hammered out at Panmunjom on July 27, 1953.
Through its history, wherever America has answered the call to perform that which cannot be readily achieved, its soldiers went to work, plied their skills, and drew upon good old American knowhow and the tradition of “getting it done” in order to help bring freedom to the forefront.