Korean War Memorial



Korean War veterans finally land memorial in Sophia


By Mannix Porterfield

Register-Herald Reporter


Even a Memorial Day speaker forgot about Korea.


Veterans of that three-year war, so denigrated it has been alternately dubbed a "police action" and a "conflict" are accustomed to the snub, intentional or not.


George Weidensall wouldn’t let the Memorial Day ceremony pass without correcting the gaffe, pointing out to a key speaker that he and his peers took part in the grueling war that followed World War II by five years.


And as far as he’s concerned, it’s not over.


"It's still on", the Beckley man says.


"There never was a peace treaty signed. There was a cease-fire and an armistice, but that was all. Guys in South Korea now up on the DMZ are still in harm’s way."


Weidensall and his fellow veterans are making sure no one driving through downtown Sophia forgets Korea.


Right in the midst of a "sit park", funded with a state grant of $25,000, is a black marble memorial, consisting of three sections depicting the war that left 33,686 dead — 801 of them West Virginians — or more than 10 times the number of American troops lost so far in the longer-running war in Iraq. And the Vietnam War, which lasted nearly four times as long, claimed 58,000.


With outside help, Chapter 156 of the Korean War Veterans generated more than $25,000. A Charleston-based chapter put up $2,500. Another $750 came from the Beckley Area Foundation. A woman holding membership in the local chapter donated $5,000.


The late auto dealer Charlie Earehart provided $500.


"But most of the money came from the 30 or 40 members of our chapter over the years", Weidensall said.


"we’ve been about 10 years in gathering money for this memorial."


One wheelchair-bound veteran roamed the stores and shopping malls, passing out the familiar Rose of Sharon for donations.


Nearly 8 feet tall, the memorial provides a sketch of the Korean War.


Weidensall credited former Sophia Mayor Danny Barr with playing a key role in setting aside space in the new city park for the memorial. A dedication is planned June 24, almost 57 years to the day the hostilities flared.


Weidensall was among the first 540 soldiers pressed into duty, serving with Task Force Smith, charged with slowing down the North Korean communists.


"Most of us felt they’d see these American soldiers up on this hill and they’ll turn around and go back where they came from" Weidensall said.


"But the first morning, they sent 33 tanks down the road. We had absolutely five or six rounds of high explosive anti-tank rounds. That was all they had in Japan (where he was stationed when war erupted)."


What’s more, the 2.36-inch bazookas proved ineffective against the Soviet-made T-34 tanks, prompting the arrival of the 3.5-inch, M20 Super Bazooka that could stop them.


Personally complicating matters for Weidensall was his M-1 rifle had been red-tagged by ordnance, meaning it was unfit for combat duty, but it fired anyway. Weidensall arrived with the standard issue of 120 rounds.


Even getting there was difficult. The first plane in chopped up the deteriorated runway. After landing three days later, the troops traveled by train to Pusan.


"We were only 18, 19 and 20 years old," he recalled. "We were ‘the baddest army in the world’ because we had just won World War II. We were overconfident."


Split into Company B and C, the soldiers straddled a hill in Juk-Mi Ridge, assuming the enemy would stick to its usual strategy of encircling them.


"All of a sudden, here comes 33 Russian T-34 tanks down the road," he said.


"We fired, and out of 33 tanks, only two were destroyed. We stopped three other ones. Fortunately for us, I think they thought we were South Korean soldiers on that hill. Usually, when tanks came through that road, they just hightailed it out because they knew they couldn’t stop them. But we didn’t. We stayed up on that hill seven and a half hours. We were running out of men and ammunition."


Word came for a retreat, but a chaplain and doctor wanted to stay with the wounded.


"As soon as the North Koreans came around to the side of the hill, they immediately started shooting at everybody, even the wounded," he said. "It didn’t make any difference to them. So the chaplain, the doctor and the medics got out of there the best they could. We had to leave a lot of guys behind, the wounded and the dead. It took us two and a half days to get back to our own lines because of the way we had to walk and hide in the hills. Eventually, there were about 250 of us who got out of there."


Weidensall was the chauffeur for the chaplain but was allowed a transfer to a rifle company when he chafed at the clergyman’s insistence on attaching a huge white-and-blue flag with a cross on the Jeep — an adornment that attracted enemy fire.


In four years with the Army, he wound up spending 36 months in the Far East.


Arriving in his new unit, Weidensall was greeted with the customary cool reception.


"In a war, you don’t want to get to know him until you find out if he’s going to be around for a while," he said.


"These guys gave me all the dirty details. But still, they would give me pointers on what I should and shouldn’t do."





Nearly a decade in the planning, this new memorial in downtown Sophia honors soldiers of the "Forgotten War." Preparing for a dedication this month, from left, are members of the Beckley chapter of the Korean War Veterans, Bill Wiseman, Carl Coleman, David Frame, P.A. Clyburn, Raymond Rose, George Weidensall and Gene Chambers.

My gramps, first one on the right in the blue shirt!!!!!--Brooke


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Bravo Brooke! Here's to gramps and all the other Korean WAR vets out there. I enjoyed reading this article and learning even more.
Marion J Chard
Proud Daughter of Walter (Monday) Poniedzialek
540th Engineer Combat Regiment, 2833rd Bn, H&S Co, 4th Platoon
There's "No Bridge Too Far"

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