Ed. note: Memorial Day will be observed on Monday, May 28. This annual event is an opportunity to honor the men and women who have served in our military, and most specially those who died while performing that service. The story here happily ends differently, but it is still a soldier’s tale.
“I was drafted at 21 years old, and reported to the Army base in Boston, leaving all the niceties of life behind.”
My father, Richard Shuman, made that remark about his time spent serving as a soldier in the Korean War conflict. During his tour of duty, from Dec. of 1952 until March of 1954, he only took 10 days of R&R (rest and recuperation). He was based in Chunchon, South Korea, which was about 10 to 15 miles from the battlefront.
“I left a girlfriend behind who I never saw again,” said Shuman, who was a Staff Sergeant in the HQS 328th Ordinance Battalion, part of the 8th Army Regiment. “I had no secondary thoughts about it. I had a duty to fulfill. I looked at it as a job.” Shuman was awarded the Korean Service Medal and two Bronze Stars, as well as the United Nations Service Medal, and National Defense Service Medal.
The Korean War began on June 25, 1950, and pitted the Soviet Union and China-backed (Communist-based) Democratic People’s Republic of North Korea against a pro-Western Republic of South Korea, supported by the United States, and its allies. The engagement ended on July 27, 1953 with the signing of an armistice between North and South Korea.
Like many veteran soldiers, Shuman could not easily discuss the details of his involvement in the Korean War, and found it hard at times to recall the experiences that he had dismissed from his mind.
“You could hear the battle being waged just a short distance from our base camp,” he said. “I saw a lot of casualties when I was there. Bell helicopters transported them covered in heavy woolen army blankets to a M.A.S.H. unit about a half-mile away.”
Shuman said at first he didn’t know what the helicopters were doing, flying in and out of the area at all times of the day. He quickly realized their presence was related to transporting the wounded and the dead.
Despite being humbled by the experience and seeing the casualties of war, Shuman said, “Morale amongst the troops was high. I carried a gun on my hip and thought I was invincible.”
Shuman noted that the weather conditions were not optimal in the “combat theater,” and you had to make the best of it. “It was freezing cold during the winter, and extremely hot in the summer.”
As for his thoughts on being drafted, Shuman said, “It seemed like just about everyone complained about the war, but we all thought it was patriotic. And no politics were discussed.”
One memorable war experience that Shuman recalled was seeing his brother, Burt, go off to serve in World War II. “He shipped out to France after the invasion of Normandy (1944). He was part of a field artillery regiment that saw a lot of battle — shelling that was both incoming and outgoing. He suffered from post traumatic stress disorder. My father said he was never the same after the war.”
“I have pictures of dead bodies that he gave me,” said Shuman. “I think they were of Germans, and Jewish refugees.”
Shuman said the Korean War was “a waste of time,” because in the end the only result “was a truce. It was perceived at that time that we had a job to do. This was further emphasized when I was in Tokyo on leave and the Japanese were very grateful to me and my American friends.” At the time, the security of Japan required a non-hostile Korea, which is its neighbor.
Shuman said that once the truce was signed between North and South Korea he knew he would soon be discharged. Upon being honorably discharged, after having spent 16 months serving in the combat theater, Shuman put it simply: “I went home.”
Postscript: For many decades, Shuman and his brother managed their father’s textile-based manufacturing company called Needlecraft in Fall River. The company employed hundreds of workers, and manufactured women’s dresses, which included contracting with designers such as Amy Adams, Abe Schrader, and Jones of New York.