Tag Archives: Greer

LSS: Honoring veterans

On 11/11/11, a date a friend and I have been anticipating for years for pure numeric magic, Americans were encouraged to thank veterans known and unknown who have made a difference in our lives.
Of the many veterans I know and love, including my dad and brother—and the legions of those I don’t but am grateful to, I always think about my uncle, CPL Leslie Frank Greer, on Veteran’s Day.
Technically, he’s still missing in action in the Korean War. My grandmother waited for him to come home until the day she died 40 years after he went missing. Though his body has never been found or identified, the Army—unbeknownst to our family—had changed his status to Died in Action, years earlier. No one had told us. I found out by chance when I went to the Korean War Memorial’s dedication in Washington, D.C.
Since then, many people in the military have worked to bring resolution on my uncle’s remains. They’ve taken DNA samples from family members and invited us to seminars and workshops. Sadly, my grandmother never got such comfort.
About the time she passed away in the early 1990s, I found a stack of letters, yellowed and tied up with string, in a small cigar box she kept. The letters were mostly form responses sent in reply to my grandmother’s handwritten letters of inquiry mailed over the course of several decades—her attempts toward learning something about her son’s whereabouts.
She never got a single detail.
Thinking about all the questions that bundle of letters never answered still breaks my heart. Especially when I contrast it to the detailed information the military recently sent me about the day my uncle surely died.
The report reads like a history lesson offering context and specifics:
By the beginning of September 1950, the war in Korea was barely two months old and had been going very badly. … The communist government of North Korea had surprised the world with its 25 June 1950 invasion of South Korea. The North Korean People’s Army was comprised of battle-tested and victorious veterans of the just finished three-year war in China. …The need for reinforcements from America was so great that once the troops arrived in the port of Pusan, South Korea, they were immediately sent to the front lines, despite having spent the weeks at sea. CPL Greer and the 2nd Infantry Division arrived in Pusan Harbor on 20 July and were on the front lines fighting the North Koreans by 8 August.
After dark on 31 August, the task force’s supporting units (heavy mortars, light machine gun sections and the engineers who would boat the men across) moved to the river and began to set-up their equipment. Just after 9 p.m., the leading elements of the North Korean’s offensive emerged from the river and began their own advance. …By dawn of the next day, the KPA had overrun “Easy” Company and the Regimental headquarters, and were operating almost six miles to the rear of the 9th Regiment’s front lines. CPL Greer was lost sometime during those early hours of fighting. As near as we can determine, he was never alive in enemy hands.
I’ve corresponded with other soldiers who were there and understand why he was never found or recovered. They’ve told me it was a massacre beyond imaginable proportions.
Though the horrors of the specifics don’t ease the pain of the loss of a child, I still wish my grandmother could have known what happened to her oldest son. The waiting and hoping helped take her mind.
Turns out, the military knew what had happened that day all along, but the documents were classified for 50 years. What good classifying that information did for anyone remains a mystery to me. My uncle died early in the war.
Maybe someone didn’t want the general public to know how bad bouts of battle in Korea had been? Or how poor decision-making led the military to send green 19-year-old boys, whose first trip off their family’s Mississippi cotton farm took them to six weeks of basic training, followed by a free trip on a slow boat to Korea and then directly to the front lines of war?
Such knowledge could have swayed public opinion. However, history has shown that the truth is a better option.
That said, I am grateful that the military has scores of people who keep looking for troops lost abroad.
Thankfully, many veterans do come home—and for that, I offer my humblest gratitude for your service to our country.
My family has taught me to make peace with the fact that there are some things we will never know or understand.
Making peace is a good thing.