Another in an Occasional Series About Carmel War Veterans
In 1950 a war-weary America was still recovering from World War II. The country had suffered unimaginable human losses in both the Europe and Pacific theatres. The country was not mentally ready for another visit to the battlefield. But when the call came from faraway Korea, the United States answered.
Will True was barely 15.
As the slugfest continued and the battle engaged millions of soldiers from North Korea, South Korea and the United States, it became clear that the war was not a short-term run. It was 1952 and America’s troops were locked into a political quagmire in Korea. A youngster left his home in Iowa and headed to Des Moines. He enlisted in the Marines.
Will True was barely 17.
The young Marine completed boot camp training in California, learning to become a flamethrower operator. He would board a ship on Christmas Eve and was dispatched to Korea. Once there, the Marine was dispatched to the battlefields where he was face-to-face with war and death. That was particularly the case on the day the North Koreans punctured through the Allies line and overran an outpost harboring four Marines. One died. The others escaped. Barely. Enemy bullets sprayed the dirt, inches from the frightened Marine.
Will True was barely 18.
For True, now 79, the trials and tribulations of Korea are still lodged in his memory. Officially, the war ended July 27, 1953. For True and those who outlasted the battles to come home, the horrible memories of war have never been totally erased with time and ensuing chapters of life. “I was lucky,” said True, a longtime Carmel resident and a member of American Legion Post 155 on Main St. “I don’t like to talk about it too much. There were things that I’ve seen and were involved with that I try not to think about today. You saw people blown up. We saw as much as the people did in World War II and a lot of it was not good.”
In the end, 33,686 U.S. troops were killed in Korea. Another 2,830 died in non-military situations and 8,176 were reported missing in action. It is estimated that 1.2 million persons died in the Korean War. But often the war in Korea is misplaced in history when compared to World War II and the Viet Nam War. “Yes, it is the forgotten war,” True admitted.
But True has vivid memories of a 1953 incident when his outpost was overrun by the North Koreans. An incoming shell killed one mate and left the other three dazed and wounded. True manned a machine gun, but the trio was down to only one hand grenade and greatly out-numbered by charging foes. An attempt to surrender by waving a white tee-shirt was ignored. “We tried to give up but the bullets were landing at our feet,” remembered True.
A frantic retreat ensued. “We had to get the hell out of there,” said True. “I remember someone yelling for us to ‘get back, get back – they’re going to shoot you.’“ With one mate blinded and the other impaired, True led the trio to a nearby embankment. “I said jump,” True recalled, “and we did.”
True and his mates were grabbed by other Marines. Today, True still tears up in recalling the episode. A military hiccup in paperwork separated him from a Medal of Honor. However, True earned two Purple Hearts for other injuries he suffered in Korea.
True’s valor has not been forgotten by Rock Effron, Commander of Post 155. “It is because of people like Will that I do what I do,” said Effron, a Viet Nam veteran. “Those soldiers in the World Wars and Korea have gotten us to this point in all of our lives. We would not be where we are as a country if it were not for those people.”
Sadly, the ages are now taking these heroes. The Carmel post has only one surviving veteran of World War II. True, who has suffered a stroke, is one of about 20 Korean veterans who are members at Post 155. “I love it here,” said True from a table in the public restaurant area. “It means everything to me.” And True means a lot to Effron and others. “Will loves the camaraderie,” Effron said. “He has a lot of things in his head. He is full of stories.”
True’s affection for the American Legion was instrumental to the future and growth of Post 155. Before expanding the building in the 1980s, Post 155 had less than 100 members. It now has over 1,000 members, including hundreds of veterans. It was True who helped spearhead building improvements and expansion in the 1980s. Effron noted that “they did it all themselves. They built the new areas. They made it happen.”
Meanwhile, Post 155 members have shouldered a strong fundraising campaign. Post 155 has raised almost $600,000 in its annual charity golf tournaments. A portion of the proceeds have delivered scholarships to Hamilton County youths whose fathers are in the military overseas. But a huge chunk of the funds have been sent to agencies in Indiana that assist homeless veterans. There are reportedly more than 30,000 homeless veterans in Indiana. “It is hard to believe in this day and age there are so many homeless veterans,” Effron said. “We help in any way we can.”
The assistance comes in providing education and medical treatments. Other gifts that are provided to homeless veterans may appear small but provide critical support. Effron noted that during a Christmas visit to a shelter for homeless veterans he encountered a former soldier who was crying after receiving a package of bed sheets. “He said it was the first time in six months that he had real sheets to use,” the commander said. “He had been using newspapers for bed sheets.”
For True and many Americans involved in the Korean War, they remained in Korea for several months after the armistice was signed in 1953. True would eventually return stateside, landing in San Francisco. He was dispatched to a base near Washington, D.C. for his remaining days as a Marine. True could now begin to think about the next chapters of his life.
He was barely 20.