Daily Independent (Ashland, KY)

Local News

February 16, 2014

Breaking the silence of the Forgotten War

ASHLAND — For more than half a century, Jim Fields kept his Korean War memories to himself.

With his wife by his side in a room full of friends and fellow veterans, Fields broke his silence Thursday evening and told of being a young man in the midst of the brutal eight-day battle at Outpost Harry.

“It’s a little bit hard to talk about it,” Fields said, his voice soft and quiet, but unwavering as he explained he was 20 when he arrived in Korea in March 1953 and was assigned to operate an 81-mm mortar.

His unit was sent to Outpost Harry, a strategic location between the Chinese army in the north and American-backed forces in the southern part of the divided nation.

The outpost, he said, was “just a knotty old hill out there,” although it was a crucial point in what was known as the Iron Triangle.

“I spent all my time in the Iron Triangle,” he said. “Before Outpost Harry, we moved pretty often.”

Fields spoke and fielded questions during a break in the middle, and again at the end, of a group-viewing of the documentary film “Hold at All Costs” hosted by the Eastern Kentucky Military Historical Society.

When the film reached the point American forces were being overwhelmed by tremendous numbers of Chinese soldiers and the decision to call in “Time on Target,” directing American firepower upon its own location, EKMHS President Matt Potter stopped the film and asked Fields to discuss the situation.

“Time on Target ... I was involved with that,” he said. “I had to hide in a bunker. They fired, just constantly. The noise was terrific.”

Fields said the situation for American forces during the first night of the eight-day battle was truly desperate, with no option other than asking for “friendly” firepower.

“They could see they had no hope of getting out of there, so they called in fire on themselves,” he said. “You didn’t have any choice. It was pretty hard to do. The only way out was to kill the attackers.”

Participants at the meeting often reacted to the documentary’s descriptions of the carnage at Outpost Harry, including memories of the smell of bodily fluids soaked into the ground, walking over dead bodies piled into trenches and other unimaginable horrors.

Ultimately, Fields was among the few survivors of the battle for Outpost Harry. Greek forces are credited with bringing the bloody exchange to an end by forming a horseshoe around Chinese forces and closing ranks, with the remote outpost never falling from American occupation.

Fields said he finally came home, where his job was waiting and his friends had no clue about the things he had experienced.

“My first day back people asked, ‘Where you been, Jim? Out in the field somewhere?’” he said, prompting another veteran in the room to say, “That’s the Korean War.”

Historians and veterans alike often call the conflict in Korea the Forgotten War, citing it as a war overshadowed by World War II on one side and Vietnam on the other.

“The fact people didn’t talk about it ... I don’t know if that helped or hurt. People didn’t want to talk about it,” Fields said.

An audience member asked Fields if time has helped him deal with memories of war.

“In a way, it’s probably gotten worse. I think the older you get, the more you realize ... things got pretty tough back there,” he replied, causing a Vietnam veteran to comment that thoughts of war are often put aside until someone mentions them.

With prompting from his wife, Cora, Fields said meeting with other Outpost Harry survivors during annual reunions has helped with his war-related burdens.

Fields said he has considered going back to the place where he saw so much carnage.

“I have had two calls to go back to Korea. I’m not really sure I want to go.”

The next military roundtable will be March 13. For more information, call (606) 547-2607.

TIM PRESTON can be reached at tpreston@dailyindependent.com.

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