Local Korean War veteran Clyde Koch, a Purple Heart recipient, died on Feb. 10 at Good Samaritan Society in Olathe at age 85. Though he suffered symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease for several years, he vividly remembered the Battle of Chosin Reservoir he fought in as a young Marine and painstakingly wrote down what he remembered with pride, so that his personal history will not be forgotten.
His widow, Mary Lou, informed me of his passing and also kindly shared with me what he wrote, over coffee. Koch served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1947-1951 and received a Purple Heart for being shot in the chest and right leg during the first few days of the Battle of Chosin Reservoir. The battle was fought in November and December 1950, when temperatures plunged to 30 to 40 degrees below zero. “The ground was frozen solid. Night fell at 4:30 p.m., and light did not return for nearly 16 hours,” Koch wrote.
Here is his account, edited for clarity and length:
The Battle of Chosin Reservoir started when the Chinese came into North Korea in huge numbers. They came in waves. We were surrounded and outnumbered. Marines and soldiers fought day and night to break out of the trap the Chinese had set. Many Marines froze to death.
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I was shot during the night. It was too dark to know where the enemy was. I was hit when I was advancing towards the enemy. When I realized I had been shot I was conscious, but very frightened. I lay there for hours. In the morning, medics came up the hill looking for wounded and dead Marines. I heard them say, ‘Here’s one.’ The put me on a stretcher and took me down the hill to the aid station. I was put on the hood of Jeep to keep me warm.
Koch spent two months in a hospital in Japan and then taken to a hospital in Hawaii. He spent a total of four months in hospitals before he returned to duty.
Koch was the first Korean veteran I wrote about in an article published in 2004. This was when the Korean Veterans Association in Overland Park was raising money to build their memorial, which now stands on 119th and Lowell. Many local South Koreans eagerly participated in the fund-raising efforts, including a Korean womens group that hosted two annual luncheons for the veterans, and I’ve met many veterans through this function, including Clyde Koch.
The Inchon Landing was a miraculous amphibious landing on an enemy occupied territory that Gen. MacArthur had orchestrated and succeeded by mobilizing 74,000 U.S. troops, 6,600 vehicles and 260 sea-vessels, turning the losing war into a winning one in mid-September 1950. Then in November, the Chinese troops entered the war theater and ambushed the U.N. troops, who at the time had advanced to near the Manchurian Border and were anticipating the war to end.
Below is part of what I wrote, which describes the scene of Inchon Landing, observed by Clyde Koch:
“On the morning of September 15th, 1950, then a 20-year-old corporal Clyde Koch watched a barrage of fire on the distant shore from a landing-ship-tank (LST). ‘This is for real,’ he said to himself. On this operation, Koch’s unit, Charlie Battery, (1st Battalion, 11th Marines, 1st Marine Division) had been aboard a LST since they had left Pusan on September 7th, and everyone was anxious for landing. The sea had been so choppy that motion sickness was common among the Marines. As morning wore on, enemy resistance seemed weakening, and finally, in mid-afternoon, orders came to abandon the LST and board a smaller landing craft loaded with 105mm howitzers.
As the boat carried them to the shore during the high tide, Koch was surprised to discover that the communists were nowhere to be found.
“The Navy pilots had done a wonderful job of clearing the shore with their bombardment,” Koch said. “It was an easy landing for us.”
Two months later, he and tens of thousands of U.N. troops would be killed or be injured or would freeze to death.
Just as Koch’s memories of the Korean War — as horrendous as they were — were important enough that he jotted them down even when his health was failing, my childhood memories of the same period and those who saved my country from the North Korean Communists are my personal treasures, the reason I keep writing about them.
Rest in peace, veteran Koch! Your selfless service our country at the time of her peril will remain in the minds and hearts of the Koreans who lived through it.
Retired musician and freelance columnist Therese Park has written three novels about Korea’s modern history. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.