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Shanks —*A Korean War Story

Discussion in 'US Army Forum' started by GreenBeret1631, Dec 30, 2007.

  1. Shanks Bootees

    It was during the dark days of the December retreat when I first
    saw them. They were hanging from the cold muzzle of an old, battered,
    Springfield rifle - a pair of tiny blue baby bootees. Their pale silk
    ribbons ended in a neat bow behind the front sight, and each little
    boot hung down separately, one slightly above the other, swinging
    silently in the wind. They reminded me of tiny bells, and even though
    one had a smudge of dirt on its soft surface, and part of the ribbon
    that touched the barrel had lost color from scorching heat, they seemed
    to me to be the freshest, cleanest objects in all of drab Korea.

    At first the bootees had fixed my attention, but after the surprise of
    seeing these symbols of home in such an incongruous place had worn off,
    I let my eyes drift, unobserved, to their owner.

    He was a lieutenant, young, I could see, and tired; not so much from
    the exertion of the trudging march, but with the wear of long days and
    nights in combat. He was talking to men from his platoon, all of them
    together watching the core of a little blaze in their center, and I
    could tell that he was answering some of their disturbing questions
    about the war. There was a tone of hopelessness in the men's voices,
    but the lieutenant sounded cheerful; there was a glint in his eye, and
    a squint that melted into an easy smile when he spoke.

    As my companions moved on, I glanced back briefly to the blue bootees
    still fresh, still swinging. Often in the next few weeks I saw the
    lieutenant and his bootees while we moved southward before the Chinese
    armies. Around the ever-present warming fires I heard the simple story
    of the officer and his boots.

    The lieutenant was named Shank, and he, twenty-two years old, led a
    rifle platoon. He had come over from Okinawa while the Army was clamped
    in the vise of the Pusan perimeter, short on manpower. Shank had his
    baptism of fire on the hills outside Taegu. His youth and fire helped
    keep his decimated platoon intact, while the North Koreans frantically
    tried to crack the American lines. Then came the breakthrough, and
    Shank's company, rode on the record-breaking tank and truck dash
    northward. He picked up the Springfield rifle then, and kept it because
    of its renowned accuracy and apparent immunity to the cold weather. A
    violent day south of Pyongyang won Shank a Silver Star for gallantry,
    as he led his flesh-and-blood infantrymen against T-34 tanks and
    destroyed three of them. The Chinese intervention and beginning of the
    American retreat brought him up to where I met him, south of Kunari.

    The bootees? That was simple. He was an expectant father, and the
    little boots sent by his young wife in the States reflected his whole
    optimistic attitude while the battle was the darkest. I also learned
    that when the baby came it would be announced by a new piece of ribbon
    on the boots - blue for a boy, pink for a girl.

    Then I forgot about him as we prepared to defend Seoul from above the
    frozen Han River. We were hit hard by the Chinese. They streamed down
    from the hills and charged the barbed wire. They charged again and
    again, piling up before our smoking guns. The days were but frantic
    preparation for the nights. Companies dwindled, and my platoon was
    halved as cold, sickness, and the enemy took their toll. I neared the
    end of my mental reserves. Names of casualties were rumored, and I
    heard Shank's among them. I wondered where Shank's bootees were now.

    Then the endless night of the retreat from Seoul came. When we got the
    word my few men were too dulled to show any emotion at the
    announcement. Most were too miserable to want to retreat again for
    twenty-five miles, Chinese or no. But we did, and the temperature
    dropped to 30 degrees below zero as our silent column stumbled along
    the hard ground. It was the most depressing night I had ever endured -
    pushed by the uncompromising cold, the pursuing enemy and the chaotic
    memory of the bloody nights before. I, as a leader, was close to that
    mental chasm. Only the numbness prevented thinking myself into mute

    We plodded across the cracking ice of the Han River at four-thirty in
    the morning, and marched on south at an ever-slowing pace. Finally the
    last five mile stretch was ahead. We rested briefly, and as the men
    dropped to the roadside they fell asleep immediately. I wondered if I
    could get them going again. Worse yet, I didn't think I could go myself
    so tired, numb, and raw was my body.

    Then in the black despair of uselessness in a second-page war I looked
    up as a passing figure brushed against my inert shoe pacs.

    There walked young Lieutenant Shank up the Korean road, whistling
    softly, while every waking eye followed him to see the muzzle of his
    battered Springfield rifle. Swinging gaily in the first rays of the
    morning sun were Shank's bootees, and fluttering below them was the
    brightest, bluest, piece of ribbon I have ever seen.

    (BTW: Shank survived the Korean, war! That baby boy, now has a grown daughter.)

    Lt David Hughes
    Seoul, Korea, Dec 1950
    7th Cav Inf Rgt 1 Cav Div


    David Hughes was a 1st Lt., with K Co of the 7th (Infantry) Regiment, 1st Cavalry Division, during the first year of the war. He retired from the US Army as a Colonel. He taught at the US Military Academy. He was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for action during the attack on Hill 347 in Korea in October 1951.
  2. JimBianchi

    JimBianchi Da Da CLM

    Feb 15, 2006
    Las Vegas
    I read that story years ago and it warms my heart to read it again.

    Thanks for posting.