May 24, 1999
|Ward Roney carried this 110-pound 75 recoilless on his
back. He says that after it was fired, the soldiers
used the hot breech to cook their C-rations.
|Today, Ward Roney sells produce and herbs.|
DUVALL--It has been called the "forgotten war."
The Korean conflict, which began in 1950 and lasted until the summer of '53, has not been heavily noted in the history books. But thousands of U.S. soldiers served there during that time, enduring bitter fighting in terrible weather and mountainous terrain. For them, memories of that miserable campaign will haunt them forever.
"I think of it every day," says Duvall farmer Ward Roney, who arrived in Korea as an Army buck private in January of 1953 as part of a regimental combat team. "And I have found out that anyone who has that kind of experience thinks of it every day."
Roney had been called up while awaiting acceptance to the veterinary school at Washington State College (now University). After basic training, he was shipped to Pusan and assigned to a recoilless rifle platoon located at the northernmost part of the line.
"We were in the Chorwan Khumwah section, which was the historical invasion route for all previous wars and this one," he said.
Within a month, he was in the thick of battle in a place U.S. soldiers called "Old Baldy." Roney said the name came from the fact that intensive shelling had obliterated all the trees and foliage on the hillside.
"In the battle of Old Baldy, 130,000 rounds of ammunition, equally distributed by American and Chinese artillery, were expended in one night," he said. "I was part of a gun position and my introduction to combat was getting a direct hit," he said. "I don't remember anything. I landed crazy and screwed up my knee for a month."
But he was alive. The other three at the gun position weren't so lucky. The U.S. soldiers lost the Old Baldy outpost in that battle, but the main line remained intact.
Roney said that while Navy and Marine dive bombers were strafing the area, he watched as one of the Navy planes was shot down. Reviewing casualty reports later, he was dismayed to note that the pilot, who had been killed, was a longtime friend.
And the enemy wasn't just the Chinese forces. Bone-numbing cold took its toll, as well.
"Any Korean veteran will remember the cold," he said. "We had a joke that if the temperature got up to 16 degrees below zero, it was warm enough to go swimming." Roney said it got as cold as 75 degrees below zero. "If you got a cup of coffee in the chow line, you drank it first, because if you waited until you got to the end of the line, the coffee was frozen."
Roney said the bunkers were the only place to thaw out. "Nights on guard were the worst ... we wore everything we had."
Two weeks after Old Baldy, all hell broke loose on Pork Chop Hill, so named because it "looked like a pork chop," he said.
American and Chinese troops met on the hill in fierce hand-to-hand combat. For days and nights on end, they fought each other and the bitter cold. Necessities such as eating and sleeping came later--for the few who survived.
"Out of one battalion of 800, there were 90 troops remaining," Roney said. "Numerically, [the Chinese] outnumbered us and had incredible esprit de corps. They would tell us over loudspeakers what they were going to do, saying 'Hey, GI, you're going to a party tonight.' And all we could do was pray we had enough ammo."
Reinforcements saved the American troops and the Chinese eventually retreated. Following Pork Chop Hill, Roney was involved in several smaller skirmishes before the truce was signed in July 1953.
Like many other combat veterans, when the word "bravery" is mentioned, he shrugs his shoulders. "We just did what we had to do, using the training we had," he said.
But he remembered the courage of one soldier who saved his life and those of the others in the group. During a skirmish, the lieutenant took off his shirt and stood up with just his T-shirt on, to draw enemy fire so his troops could move ahead.
"We were fortunate that he did that," Roney said. "That act drew the fire and we survived." Roney said the lieutenant managed to survive as well, but with a few extra holes in him.
Roney eventually became a platoon leader with the rank of Sgt. 1st Class. After the truce was signed, he patrolled the demilitarized zone for six months before returning home.
"People don't realize that in 38 months of that war, there were almost as many casualties as in 10 years of Vietnam," he said. "And there are still 8,000 missing in action there."
Amazingly, Roney's father, Ward, Sr., had been missing in action for six months during WWII. He was Judge Advocate General (JAG) for the Pacific Theater during the war, stationed in Australia, where he shared a floor with General MacArthur.
"They were good friends," Roney said. "He also had then-Major Eisenhower under him in the late 1930s."
Roney, Sr., was also a pilot. During a flight over the Northern Territories during WWII, his plane was shot down. He was rescued by a group of Aborigines who set his back and hip injuries and carried him around in a kangaroo skin for six months before making it back to civilization.
After the war, Roney, Sr. became a King County Superior Court judge, returning to live on the family farm in Duvall.
Ward, Jr., never attended veterinary school, taking up farming instead after his stint in Korea. He dairied for 18 years and now sells produce and herbs. His label, Snoqualmie River Ranch, can be found in many regional grocery stores.
Roney plans to attend a reunion of survivors scheduled for this October. "You learn how to overcome the effects of the war and achieve some sort of peace and serenity," he said. "But you don't forget it."