From Korea to Camp David, veteran has lifetime of military service
Korean War veteran Jesse Englehart at his Smithsburg home. (By Joe Crocetta/Staff Photographer / May 2, 2013)
He said the two walked toward the poncho and lifted it.
“There was a Chinese soldier with a rifle,” the 81-year-old Englehart said recently from his Washington County home. “I’m not sure if I shot him or my buddy shot him. It’s better if it’s blocked out of your mind, I think.”
He said his service during the Korean War was the first leg of a 22-year-career in the Marine Corps that led to two tours of duty in Vietnam and a post as security chief at Camp David.
Englehart said he was 18 when he landed in South Korea on Aug. 4, 1950.
Within 24 hours, his unit was under enemy fire.
“Your first experience with combat ... It was kind of chilling,” he said. “You prayed to the good Lord that he would protect you.”
On June 25, 1950, North Korean forces attacked South Korea and drove its poorly equipped defenders into a small pocket of resistance at Pusan.
The Marines in Englehart’s unit were part of a United Nations force that was sent to reinforce Pusan, gain a little breathing room, then mount a counterattack.
Shortly after that was accomplished, Englehart’s unit was ordered to withdraw and prepare for an amphibious landing behind the enemy’s rear on the west coast of the Korean Peninsula at Inchon.
U.N. troops started the operation on Sept. 15, 1950.
“It seemed like a quiet type of landing,” Englehart said. “We didn’t see a lot of combat until we pushed inland a ways.”
He said American forces quickly gained ground and retook Seoul, the South Korean capital.
Two months later, the Marines had driven so far north that they were at the Chosin Reservoir near Manchuria. The temperature that winter was 30 below zero when the Chinese government, fearing the Americans might drive farther north, sent troops across the border to halt the advance.
In no time, American Marines and soldiers, who were fighting as part of a United Nations force that included British and South Korean troops, found themselves surrounded and outnumbered. There was nothing left for the men to do but wage a full-scale retreat.
“We fought our way out just like we fought our way in,” Englehart said. “At that time, I didn’t know we were that far up into North Korea.”
In addition to fighting the Chinese, American troops had to withstand the cold, he said. As the men marched, their socks would get wet with sweat, then freeze to the insole of their boots.
“I was fortunate,” Englehart said. “I only got second-degree frostbite on my feet. Other people lost their feet because they were frozen. I think the cold was the most critical thing.”
The Marines suffered heavy casualties slugging their way out of the Chosin Reservoir. Some estimates show the two-week battle produced 15,000 casualties on the United Nations’ side.