Veterans observe Armistice

By Rozella Hardin
star staff

  A small crowd of mostly senior veterans gathered downtown at the Carter County War Memorial Park Tuesday morning to mark the observance of National Korean War Veterans Armistice Day. It was a bittersweet occasion as the men, now in their 60s, 70s, and even 80s, recalled their war experiences.
  Most were Korean veterans -- some wore caps inscribed "Korean War Veteran"; some wore shirts with bars and stripes and other decorations. There was a smattering of World War II and Vietnam veterans in the crowd, who came in support of their Korean War comrades and took shelter from the drizzling rain under the canopy-covered sidewalk.
  Joining the group of local veterans was a contingent from the Mountain Empire Chapter of Korean War Veterans. Paul Serchia of Johnson City moved among the veterans shaking hands. A former employee of Great Lakes Research in Elizabethton, now closed, Serchia was wounded at Pork Chop Hill, one of the last major battles of the war. A member of the Seventh Infantry Division, Serchia shared that he had only arrived in Korea in April before he was wounded on July 8, 1953. "It was rough and tough," he said.
  The crowd became quiet and the old veterans quickly snapped to attention and removed their caps, placing them over their heart as J.D. Collins stepped to the flagpole inside the Veterans Memorial Park. Collins slowly lowered the American flag to half-mast in memory of his fallen comrades -- the flag remained at half-mast until sunset Tuesday evening.
  Collins, a Carter Countian, served in Korea 20 months. He was wounded on October 12, 1951, in the battle at Heartbreak Ridge. "I had a lot of friends get killed," Collins said as tears welled in his eyes and his voice faltered. "War is a terrible thing. You win, but you lose, too. I remember it just like it was yesterday," he said.
  Placing a wreath at the Korean Memorial in the park were Betty Campbell Potter, daughter of Roscoe Campbell, and Mary Tyree Peters, sister of Noah Tyree Jr. They were assisted by Debbie Nash and Fredia Hill, daughter of the late Buster Shell, holder of the Distinguished Service Cross.
  Campbell was the first Carter County casualty in the Korean War, and Tyree was the county's last Korean War casualty.
  Mary Peters clutched a large photo of her brother while in the rain she helped place the wreath at the granite marker inscribed with the names of the 19 Carter Countians killed in the Korean War.
  Tyree died July 16, 1953, just 11 days before the end of the war. He served with the 180th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. "He was so young," Peters said of her brother.
  Campbell was killed on July 11, 1950, just six days after U.S. forces first met North Korean forces on July 5, 1950. He served with the 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division.
  Deacon Bowers, chairman of the Carter County War Memorial Committee, said Shell was the first and only veteran from Carter County to receive the Distinguished Service Cross since World War I, when five Carter Countians were awarded the medal.
  "It is the second highest honor accorded by the United States to a soldier," said Bowers.
  According to Pentagon records, Shell received the coveted medal when with rocket launchers he single-handedly destroyed two Russian-built T-34 tanks by himself as his unit approached the North Korean capital.
  The Military Armistice Agreement of July 27, 1953, ended three years of bitter warfare on the Korean Peninsula and stopped the spread of communism in Korea. More than 34,000 of America's service men and women gave their lives in battle in the Korean War, which began on June 25, 1950, when N. Korean troops invaded South Korea. More than 1.7 million Americans faced forbidding terrain and harsh combat in battles such as Pork Chop Hill, Heartbreak Ridge, the Pusan Perimeter, and the Chosin Reservoir.