Local men played key roles in Korean War – Mount Airy News

Mount Airy Museum of Regional History

Wednesday, Sept. 6, 1950, buses rolled out of Veterans Park in Mount Airy and away from the courthouse grounds in Dobson loaded with dozens of men in sharp Army uniforms. Part of Battery A of the 426th Field Artillery Battalion, these were members of the Surry County reserve unit. They were headed to Fort Bragg to begin training in the use of Howitzers for overseas deployment.

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

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

After WWII, the uneasy alliance between western powers and Stalin’s Soviet Union grew increasingly strained. As the US implemented its Marshall Plan to rebuild war-torn Europe, the Soviets developed their own atomic weapons.

To the east China’s Civil War ended with Mao Zedong’s Communist forces rising to “resist America.”

Another military invasion was expected but many felt it would be Soviet troops pushing into Europe again.

It is such an overlooked time in our history that it is generally known as the Forgotten War. As we enter the 70th anniversary of the conflict, we’ll explore several ways it impacted regional history as many men and women from the area served in some aspect during that time.

But today we concentrate on the men who were part of the 426th Field Artillery Battalion who were placed in what was expected to be the hot spot of a coming war, Germany.

Begun as a reserve unit in 1949, three batteries were established in this part of North Carolina; ‘A’ in 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.

Just 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’s.

“It would be a good experience for me,” Holder recalled during 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 advance.”

The men were told, erroneously, they wouldn’t be deployed unless an actual war erupted so they were surprised to receive activation papers in August 1950. Many felt they had served their share of time away from families and jobs. Complaints from the men’s families prompted Congressman Thurmond Chatham of Elkin to call for an investigation.

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

In the end, the men shipped out and served at such an exemplary level the Department of the Army declared the group to be “the elite of the Army’s artillery.” While their accuracy was impressive, reliably able to drop an 8-inch shell from their Howitzers on targets up to 12 miles distant, it was their speed and efficiency that seems to have garnered the brass’ attention.

Once at the location they were to set up on, the A, B, and C batteries were able to dig out and place the huge gun, set up cover, communications, and other support operations, in less than five hours. Army standard for operations of this size was six-and-a-half hours.

At first some of the men planned to bring their families to Germany with them. Jack Leach, who had been at Pearl Harbor when it was attacked, explained why they all decided against that in a 2004 interview with author Randall Brim.

“I left a wife (Virginia Poore), two little children and a mean little dog,” he said, and it was hard to be away from them. “We found out they had to have a suitcase with two blankets, three days rations, and three changes of clothes for at the house. And the children who were in school were required to have one at school in case the Cold War turned hot and they would have to get out, who knows where, fast. That they would have something to take but you didn’t know where they’d go to.” He paused, obviously emotional more than 50 years later. “Well, that killed that idea very fast.”

Fortunately for A Battery, the expected push from the Soviets never came and the men all eventually came home.

Sadly, this was not the experience for the many service personnel who served on the Korean peninsula. We’ll discuss some of their stories in future columns as we mark this too-often overlooked time. If your family has letters, pictures, memoirs, or other memorabilia from those who served in the Korean War, or any other war, the museum would love the opportunity to scan them to increase our knowledge of their experiences and sacrifices. Contact our curator, Amy Snyder, at aesnyder@northcarolinamuseum.org or 336-786-4478.

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

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Author: HOCAdmin