EDITOR’S NOTE: The following feature series profiles Ellis County veterans killed in the line of service to their country during the 20th century.
The features, researched and written by Perry Giles, are read in first-person voice by area students during the annual Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Ceremony as a special way to remember and pay tribute to our friends, classmates and neighbors who gave their lives for our freedom.
“We Were Soldiers Once and Young” will appear every Sunday in the Daily Light through Veterans Day.
We stand on the backs of their sacrifice. Their history is our tradition, as long as there are Americans to remember...
My name is Walter Ray Couch. I grew up in Italy, Texas.
I served as a Corporal in Company G, 2nd Battalion, 38th Infantry Regiment of the 2nd Infantry Division, United States Army.
When the war on the Korean peninsula broke out in the summer of 1950, our division was alerted for mobilization to the Far East.
By November, we had pushed the Communists out of the South and were fighting in the mountainous terrain of North Korea along the banks of the Chong-Chon River. Despite the terrible fighting, the war had gone well for us so far, and there had even been talk of being home for Christmas.
As darkness fell on Nov. 25, the temperature rocketed down to minus 20 degrees. Two days after Thanksgiving, it was bitter cold and pitch black that night. We thought we heard noises out there but we finally wrote it off as the wind. As much as we looked, we couldn’t see a thing. Then out of the darkness, the Chinese Army struck.
The size of the attack was a complete shock. Rocket flairs were fired into the frozen snowy sky. The fading, flickering light allowed us to see the approaching nightmare. Good grief, there are thousands of them, tens of thousands of them.
Desperately we scrambled to our positions carrying all the ammunition we could gather. We didn’t have enough men! Up ‘till now, all through this war, I have never felt this afraid. We needed help!
For days, we beat off wave after wave of attackers. Loading and firing and reloading as fast as we could. They were coming at us from three different sides, thousands of them, like crazed suicidal robots. We were all fighting for our very lives. Their methods were hard for me to comprehend, we killed hundreds and hundreds of them, but they just kept coming at us. The slaughter and carnage were unimaginable.
Our situation went from bad to worse. My regiment was ordered to fight a delaying action. The Army was going to retreat, but it fell on us to stay behind and protect the rear flank. What a dire lot we have drawn!
There was no sleep. No rest. No food. No heat. The cold was piercing and unbearable. You begin to wonder, “How will we ever make it out of this?”
By the 27th, the enemy had infiltrated behind our position. Our only escape route was about to be cut off. Our only hope was to fight our way out. Otherwise, we faced total annihilation.
We fought our way down a roadway, taking dreadful losses in men and equipment. We had many wounded that needed treatment. Our ammunition was low. Supplies scare. Burning vehicles blocked the road. I saw things, terrible things that I never dreamed I would see.
We set up new defensive positions near the village of Kunu-ri. Our orders were to, “Hold the line.” We gathered up weapons and ammunition from the dead and the wounded. We were resolved to do what we could, and there we stood our ground. This was going to be our Alamo.
We readied ourselves for the inevitable, and then we heard them blowing whistles. They came again in human waves, one after another. We needed more men! There was fear and confusion in the ranks, but we did everything we possibly could to carry out our orders.
On Wednesday Nov. 29, there were just too many of them. My company was overrun and wiped out.
I was reported as missing in action.
Months later … a prisoner of war, never given medicine and very little food fit for a human, I died from sickness and malnutrition.
It was the 30th of June 1951, a Saturday and I was 23 years old.
We were soldiers once, and young.
Perry Giles serves as co-chair of the Ellis County Veterans Appreciation Day Committee. The 2013 countywide tribute to veterans is scheduled for 10 a.m., Saturday, Nov. 9, at the Waxahachie Civic Center followed by a wreath presentation at the Ellis County Veterans Memorial located in front of the center.