With today being Memorial Day, I thought I would write an article highlighting some of those to which this day is dedicated. We live in an age where sports stars are idolized by the masses and Hollywood celebrities are revered for no other reason than that they are famous, worshipped by the masses. The word hero gets tossed around more than in a Marvel comic book and often this title bestowed on those who fall far short of such an accolade. The true heroes of our time many times remain anonymous, the names only revered by their family and those few who witnessed their greatness and lived to tell of it. Below are just a few, relatively unknown heroes from a war hardly spoken of in the decades since it raged in the mountains and hills of Korea.
PFC Melvin L. Brown – U.S. Army
PFC Melvin Brown was part of the 8th Engineer Combat Battalion, Delta Company. His platoon was securing Hill 755, also called the Walled City in September of 1950 when enemy forces counterattacked with heavy automatic weapons as well as small arms fire. PFC Brown, a mere 19 years old, took the initiative and exposing himself on a 50-foot wall, he returned fire, pinning the enemy down until he exhausted his ammunition. Though wounded, PFC Brown continued to stay in the fight, lobbing grenade after grenade which were being supplied to him by his fellow battle buddies in nearby foxholes, even dismounting to retrieve additional grenades and returning to his position atop the wall, all while under intense enemy fire. Soon, he exhausted his supply and though weaponless, PFC Brown refused to accept defeat. He drew his entrenching tool and waiting patiently until the enemy advanced, peering over the wall, then using his tool, struck them, 1 by 1, knocking nearly a dozen enemy off the wall. His courageous actions inspired the men of his platoon and they repelled this enemy force and held their position. No doubt, if it wasn’t for the extraordinary actions of PFC Brown, dozens of American men would have been added to the mounting casualty list. PFC Melvin Brown was killed in action on September 5th, 1950. For this he was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor in February of 1951.
CPT Emil J. Kapaun – U.S. Army
Emil joined the army from Kansas, serving as chaplain in the 1st Cavalry Division, 8th Regiment assigned to the 3rd Battalion. His unit was conducting combat operations in Unsan, Korea in November of 1950. On the 1st of November, Chinese forces began a vicious attack and Chaplain Kapaun, with no regard for his own safety, calmly walked through intense and effective enemy fire to give comfort and perform first aid to the men of his unit, evacuating the severely wounded from the areas of concentrated enemy fire.
Though the Chinese attack was repelled, they were basically surrounded and the order came down that all able bodied men needed to evacuate to avoid certain capture. Acutely aware of his own imminent capture, Chaplain Kapaun elected to remain behind to care for those wounded and unable to retreat. Soon, the enemy broke through in the dark morning hours of November 2nd and during the attack, Chaplain Kapaun courageously attended the wounded and dying as the battle evolved into savage hand-to-hand combat. As Communist forces rushed in, Chaplain Kapaun successfully convinced a wounded Chinese officer to negotiate the safe surrender of the embattled American forces.
Not only did Chaplain Kapaun’s courageous actions save the lives of many wounded men, he saved the life of Sergeant Herbert Miller who would have been executed but Chaplain Kapaun, with complete disregard for his own life, pushed aside the enemy soldier who was preparing this execution. Because of his daring leadership, unwavering heroism and extraordinary selflessness, Chaplain Kapaun inspired the remaining men to continue the fight until the last moment, allowing many others to escape to freedom. Chaplain Kapaun was killed in action in May of 1951, his nephew was presented his posthumously awarded Medal of Honor in April of 2013.
2nd Lieutenant Sherrod E. Skinner, Jr. – U.S. Marine Corps
Born in Connecticut, Sherrod joined the Marines in Lansing, Michigan, becoming an artillery officer. Deployed to Korea, he served as a forward observer in Battery F, 2nd Battalion. On the night of 26 October, his battery was fiercely attacked by a devastating barrage of enemy artillery. Determined to hold this position, 2nd Lt Skinner organized a defense directing those surviving personnel to defend the outpost at all costs. Though communication lines were severed in the attack, 2nd Lt Skinner, using only a radio, continued to call down effective fire on enemy forces until his equipment became damaged beyond repair.
With unwavering determination despite the intense fire and rapidly approaching enemy counterattack, 2nd Lt Skinner twice left the bunker with complete disregard of his own safety to further direct machine gun fire and to resupply ammunition and grenades. Though savagely wounded during both resupply runs, 2nd Lt Skinner refused medical care until the men he commanded received treatment.
As the continued enemy ground attack reached its climax, 2nd Lt Skinner heroically commanded the final defense until their ammunition supply was wiped out. Ultimately their position was overrun and during the three hours that his outpost was occupied by the enemy, several grenades were thrown into the bunker which served as the only protection for Lt. Skinner and his remaining troops. It was then that 2nd Lt directed his men to play dead as the hostile troops entered the bunker and searched them. During this search, an enemy grenade was tossed in between him and some other survivors. Acting with great courage and self-sacrifice, 2nd Lt Skinner immediately threw himself on the grenade so as to protect his brothers in arms. Covering the grenade with his body, he absorbed the full force of the explosion, paying the ultimate sacrifice for his beloved men.
His unstoppable determination, incredible leadership and phenomenal valor provided the needed inspiration to his Marines to make their heroic stand against the enemy. He gave his life for that which he loved so much, his men and his country and for this he was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
These are just a fraction of the heroes that fill the history of our great nation. These are the men that deserve our awe our adulations. This day, Memorial Day, is one in which we step back and remember that our great country and the freedom we enjoy is built on the sacrifices of so many young men and women whose names have become but a whisper on the lips of so few and many have been lost forever. Remember these names and the hundreds more who have never been recognized for their loyal service to this country and to freedom across the globe and across the ages. Memorial Day, Freedom’s Heroes Day.
Featured image courtesy of DODlive.mil