August 30, 2012

Tague Attends Reunion for Korean War Veterans

Albert Walton and Buck Tague, here in front of the Korean War Memorial in San Antonio, have attended many Chosin Few reunions. Both men received certificates honoring their service from Leon Panetta.

Don "Buck" Tague, of Gorin, attended a Korean War reunion in San Antonio, Texas, from August 23 to 26. Held every two years, this reunion gathers soldiers of different service branches, united by having the Chosin Reservoir as their common connection. The name of the group is: The Chosin Few.

The Chosin Reservoir battle is said by recently-enlisted Marines to be the worst Marine battle of all times. Most attendees were from the Marine Corps. Others attendees represented the United States Army, Navy, and Air Force. Even one member of the English Royal Marines attended. All of these soldiers share a sense of survival and a hope for memory of their fallen. This year's memorial service was standing-room only.

Buck served in the Army's X Corp 79th Engineering Division in Korea, having been pulled out of the infantry because his oldest brother, Jean, had taught him how to drive a Caterpillar. Buck helped to build what he calls "The Hungnam Hilton," a series of tents used by those lucky enough to walk out of the reservoir. The tents were used to eat and sleep until the ships could be boarded for evacuation. For the first time, Buck's daughter, Sandra, heard a soldier say, "Yeah, I remember those tents." Until now, Sandra had always noticed that not one soldier recalled anything about their evacuation at all. Their first memories, they said, were of their ships going home.

In the hospitality room, refreshments included Tootsie Rolls. As it turns out, the term, "Tootsie Roll," was code for ammunition. As the battle raged on and the men ran out of ammunition, repeated radio calls for Tootsie Rolls went out. Brave men, at extreme personal danger, went into open areas where air support dropped parachute-crates. Instead of ammo, the men found Tootsie Rolls. The stories told say that the candy helped sustain the men on their walk out of the reservoir, for one of the other things they were missing was food. Supposedly, there is even one story of a Tootsie Roll being used to plug a hole in a radiator. Thus Tootsie Rolls are thought of fondly by these men.

This year's events included a tour of the Nimitz Museum in Fredericksburg, Texas, attended by Buck and Sandra.

Bonnie and Albert Walton, of Carthage, MO, attended this year too. They first met Buck and Sandra 10 years ago at the last Chosin Few reunion in San Antonio. At other reunions, Buck's son, Paul Tague, Paul's wife, Diane, Buck's daughter, Jane Klopfer, and Buck's niece, Nancy Platz, met the Waltons.

It was at the San Antonio reunion 10 years ago when Dick Cheney said at the last minute he wanted to give the Chosin Few a speech. Covered extensively in the media at the time, Cheney's speech was hardly met with approval or support by these soldiers. The speech cost the organization thousands of dollars in hotel rescheduling and Buck said he has yet to find a soldier who was interested in the idea of sending soldiers off to fight in Iraq.

Bonnie said one of this year's events was particularly helpful to her: a ladies' luncheon with discussion about memory loss, irritability, and other factors observed in post-traumatic stress disorder by so many of these soldiers. PTSD, veterans' benefits, and particularly cold-injury benefits were discussed, as well as widow's benefits.

The city of San Antonio had another connection with Albert Walton. He spent an entire year in San Antonio as a patient at Brooke Army Medical Center after he came home from Korea. He was lined with sand bags to his neck there; he learned to walk again; and he recovered from a bullet wound to his head, a bullet that took the sight from his right eye.

Buck, aged 86, plans to continue to attend reunions, "as long as I can keep a goin'". Buck also attends World War II reunions.

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