Photographs and an oral history chronicling Brock's military service as a combat engineer in Korea.Browse all items
The Korean War Memorial in Washington dedicated to the nation's sons and daughters called to fight in the war reads, in part, that these Americans were asked "to defend a country they did not know and a people they had never met." Freedom was clearly not free for these men and women who were plucked from their American existence to join United Nations forces in the first major Cold War military conflict. From his home on the banks of Cane Creek in Van Buren County, twenty-year-old David Franklin Brock traveled to the Nashville induction center on January 21, 1952 and reported for duty. Roughly the next two years of his life would be dedicated to serving his country. Brock had left the state only once before, but now the conflict in Korea would whisk him a world away.
Brock's family had weathered the Great Flood of 1929, the Great Depression, and World War II. His generation had been schooled in sacrifice and patriotism. Like many others his age, he had an older brother who had served in World War II. The shadow cast by that "Greatest Generation" would follow Korean War veterans throughout their lives.
Brock answered when Uncle Sam beckoned. His training at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri, as a combat engineer broadened his horizons and brought him into contact with men from the big cities, from different social backgrounds and religions, and of different races. After all, Korea became the first American military conflict fought by racially integrated forces. The war not only took him away from the farm in Spencer that had been his home and seemed to be his future, but from his sweetheart, Laura Mae Phillips. As he finished his months of training at Fort Leonard Wood and sailed from San Francisco on the USS General W.A. Mann toward Korea, Brock experienced anticipation, some trepidation, and excitement for all that lay ahead, but he clearly felt the weight of all he left behind. He had no way of knowing that his war would be the forgotten one.
He joined a new family, that of the Second Infantry Division, the "Tomahawk Warriors—Second to None." Pride in his service with this military unit ("the best division" according to Brock) has always remained with him. The Second, known to the world as the Indianhead Division, had been the first to arrive from across the seas after North Korea invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. The Second Division had been battered by North Korean forces at Pusan, but refused to be pushed into the sea. They had fought their way across the peninsula during the Breakout following MacArthur's successful Inchon Landing to function as "the Anvil" to MacArthur's "Hammer." And they charged with the U.S. Eighth Army toward the Yalu River, only to be mauled by the surprise onslaught of the Chinese Red Army at the Manchurian border and in the following retreat of United Nations forces. The very battalion to which Brock would be assigned, the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion, defended the withdrawing remnants of the Eighth Army and the remainder of the 2nd Division at Kunu-ri. A missed communication left the 2nd Engineers as the last military unit to face over five divisions of Chinese troops. They were forced to destroy their equipment and burn their colors; at that time, November 30, 1950, the 2nd Engineer Combat Battalion was overrun and ceased to exist as a viable fighting force.
When David Franklin Brock arrived at Pusan in July 1952, the war had become quite different. United Nations forces had surged forward. Armistice talks were underway—destined to drag on for years. There would be no more bolting across the terrain. Instead, the lines of the front stabilized north of Seoul, and 1952-1953 marked the "Battles of the Outposts." Securing strategic hills and outposts became the objective of the United Nations forces. Nearly half of the war’s casualties occurred within this forgotten period of a forgotten war.
For Brock, this meant that his service occurred in the vicinity of the "Iron Triangle" and near the 38th parallel. From July 1952 to the end of the war, the 2nd Engineers were stationed at the Chorwon Valley, then in the Kumhwa region, and finally at the "Hook," a bend on the Samichon River near the border between North and South Korea. Brock and his squad of ten to twelve men from Dog Company (Company D) built roads, bridges, and bunkers for the front, often while under enemy fire. As a demolitions specialist, he detonated explosives and laid and cleared land mines. As with all combat engineers, Brock trained in combat infantry, and when needed, functioned as an infantry soldier. He was called upon to serve in this dual capacity during his last station at the "Hook." There, he and his unit weathered the bloody last battle of the "Hook" just before the armistice was signed on July 27, 1953.
Brock served his country from January 1952 to October 1953 and was promoted to corporal. He came home on active reserve to his sweetheart, Laura Mae Phillips; they would marry in 1954. Her presence hovered over him during his service overseas, and it can be seen now in her writing that appears across a number of the 195 photographs loaned by Brock to the Tennessee State Library and Archives for scanning.
Brock also came home to a nation that had seemingly forgotten him and his fellow soldiers. During the Korean War, the American public experienced no daily sacrifices, such as rationing, that would have constituted active home front participation and kept the conflict at the forefront of their collective consciousness. In addition, polls show that the Korean War became increasingly unpopular as it dragged on. Historians suggest that Americans were unable to connect to the unfamiliar concept of limited war and that the lack of an official declaration of war and a decisive victory contributed to the Korean War’s "forgotten" status. For a nation, awash in post-World War II prosperity, the conflict had become a world away.
The military’s use of the points rotation system meant American soldiers did not return home en masse, as was the case in previous military conflicts. Thus, Brock (as he details in the transcript of his oral history included in this collection) and other Korean War veterans were not met with ticker-tape parades or mass displays of gratitude as they concluded their service. Instead, Korean War veterans quietly reentered American society, facing a unique and challenging adjustment to postwar life. For Brock and those like him, however, the pride in saving South Korea from Communist aggression and serving under their beloved American flag endured and is captured in these images.
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