Korean vet hopes war will finally end
LOCKPORT, N.Y. — Lockport resident Charles “Chuck” Harvey wishes the Korean War was over.
The 79-year-old Niagara Falls native served on that tortured Asian peninsula 60 years ago as a Marine when a cease fire was agreed to on July 27, 1953. But he keeps another anniversary, too.
The Marine veteran of a “Ghost Battalion” was bloodied in a trench on the 38th parallel eight days before the shelling stopped; 60 years ago today.
Harvey was one of 15 survivors of a battle near what was called the Berlin Outpost.
The “forgotten war” never ended, and July 27 is not celebrated; few people know the significance of the date, according to Harvey. He doesn’t wish for recognition, but instead hopes for unification.
“I would like to see the North Korean people free and the country reunited,” Harvey said. “That would make me happy, but I just can’t see it happening. I’ve got nothing against North Korean people. They have it worse off than anybody.”
After six decades, Korean families are still separated by the DMZ. Since 1953, North Korea has violated the armistice 221 times, according to the Korea Herald. Nerves and sabers are still rattled.
As for the Berlin Outpost, on July 19, 1953, the ground at the 38th parallel beneath Harvey was literally shaking during heavy fighting. The 18-year-old Marine was getting knocked around.
“I was trapped in a bunker and the rounds were never ending. Never ending,” he said. “I thought this is the end of the world. Nothing can be this terrible. Thousands of rounds were coming from everywhere.”
Chinese and North Korean armies joined forces with the support of the Russians in an attempt to overrun the United Nations troops.
A North Korean general vowed to destroy the Third Battalion of the 7th Marines, according to Harvey. The veteran said, “He vowed to annihilate us and he would move with us repeatedly.”
Harvey, despite suffering a concussion and several shrapnel wounds, worked his way back to battalion medical from Hill 119 and was able to lead another wounded soldier back to safety. “He couldn’t talk. He could do nothing,” said Harvey. Harvey regrets he never learned the fellow Marine’s name.
The battle continued and Harvey was in medical for three days when an officer approached him.
“The colonel said, do you want to go back?” Harvey recalled. The teen Marine answered, “You send me, I’ll go.”
The officer said, “I’m going to give your mother an early Christmas present. I’m going to send you back to the reserves. You’ve seen enough. I’m going to send you back.”
Harvey’s eyes well up when he recalls the moment.
He was assigned to the reserves and discharged in March 1954.
Harvey was born Jan. 12, 1935, just blocks away from Hyde Park in Niagara Falls. The family soon moved to Lockport, where he attended DeWitt Clinton Elementary School and learned to play the trumpet. He was attending Gaskill Junior High in Niagara Falls when he quit school and went to work at a bakery.
He joined the Marines in 1952 when he was 17. After 10 weeks of basic training at Paris Island, Harvey thought he would be assigned to the drum and bugle corps. Instead he was assigned to the infantry, but he was too young for combat. When he turned 18 in 1953, Harvey found himself on the “MLR,” the Main Line of Resistance. That line kept moving, maybe a yard at a time.
Officially, the hills of Korea were numbered for identification. The outposts, used as an early warning device, were given names.
One day the Marines would be on the offensive, the next day they became defensive, going up and down the hills.
“We would look for the enemy and engage him,” Harvey recalled. “We would leave, get some good food, go back to the line and do the same thing over again. We learned to survive day-to-day.”
A jack of all trades, he would man a 50-caliber machine gun on the line, a bazooka rocket launcher to knock out tanks, fix his bayonet for close fighting and sight his carbine as a sniper. He guided supply trains of food and medicine to the outpost.
Battles continued until there was a stalemate. It ended July 27.
The U.S. had 33,686 battle deaths in the “Korean conflict.” Harvey wonders why he wasn’t one of those casualties. He does suffer from post traumatic stress disorder. He was awarded nine ribbons and seven or eight medals.
When he returned home, Harvey worked in Niagara Falls and on the Niagara Power Project. He attended Kelly Business Institute and became a caregiver for his grandmother, grandfather and a disabled veteran. Never married, Harvey has lived on Johnson Road for 15 years. He took care of his mother, Harriet, until she died in 2006 at 92. His brother, Paul, is a World War II veteran. Paul lives a mile away in Newfane. His younger brother, Darrell, is a Vietnam Vet.
The Panmunjom agreement was reached on July 27, 1953. The agreement established a 4-kilometer wide demilitarized zone along the armistice line, effectively dividing Korea into two separate countries.
”Hopefully, the war will be over before I die,” Harvey said. “Technically, we’re still at war with them.”
Harvey begins to think about the anniversary in June and can’t keep the memory away. “It never goes away. It never goes away,” the PTSD sufferer said on the eve of the battle at the Berlin Outpost.
He plans to go to the Seneca Niagara Casino today, play the slots and sip some wine, but it won’t take him away from his memories of 60 years ago.