EDITOR’S NOTE: Sun correspondent Don Moore has written veteran stories for years for the newspaper. These interviews become part of the Library of Congress veteran history program. This story is No. 1,000 from Moore.
Six days before the Korean War ended on July 27, 1953, Russ Myers, a resident of Country Club Estates mobile home park in Venice, received a Purple Heart.
He suffered shrapnel wounds from a North Korean mortar round while serving with Weapons Company, 3rd Battalion, 5th Regiment, 1st Marine Division.
He and his buddies were fighting and dying along what would eventually become the DMZ that divides the two countries — North and South.
He arrived there in October 1952, just in time for the rainy season. They went into Inchon, after Gen. Douglas MacArthur made the brilliant first Inchon landing that severed the North Korea’s line of engagement and caused thousands of enemy soldiers to die or fall back toward north.
When Myers arrived in Korea he was assigned to a flamethrower unit. All he knew about flamethrowers he learned while in basic training in the United States.
“You didn’t need to be too smart to handle a flamethrower,” the 86-year-old Marine veteran recalled.
The equipment produced three bursts of flame from two tanks carried on a Marine’s back. Total time for all three bursts — seven seconds. At that point you dropped your flamethrower and picked up your .45 cal. sidearm.
None of that mattered, because when Myers reach Seoul, the first place his unit unloaded when it got to South Korea, he was transferred to a mortar squad in the 1st Marine Division. He became a loader for an .81 millimeter mortar unit.
“We took a train north for a long while before we arrived at the DMZ,” he said. “The DMZ was a bunch of low level, muddy hills where all the trees had been harvested before we got there.
“So there we were sitting on a muddy hill digging holes for protection. We also dug bunkers to sleep in while on the front lines,” Myers explained. “The weather was terrible. It started out being hot and then it got cold and muddy.
“When the North Koreans came over the hill at us they were blowing bugles, screaming and hollering. They usually charged our lines the first thing in the morning or late at night. Mostly they flooded the area with troops, many more soldiers than we had.
“Although we were outnumbered, we had tanks setting up on the hill behind us. Every time it got hairy, we’d call in the tanks,” he said.
“There were a lot of casualties at one time or another. We had an ‘Angel Committee’ composed of cooks and bakers and others who volunteered to go out and pick up our wounded and dead on the battlefield,” Myers said.
“When I was wounded I happened to be driving our colonel around in a Jeep. We were going to check on another guy who had been shot earlier. I got wounded in my left arm by shrapnel.”
Myers was patched up and stayed on the front line in the fight.
Asked how he felt about American soldiers giving their all in Korea to capture a nondescript hill along the DMZ that meant little to either side, he said this: “We were fighting for the freedom and democracy of the South Korean people. We weren’t alone. There were 17 other countries who sent troops to Korea.”
At war’s end, Myers took a side trip to Panmunjom, North Korea to find his buddy Olaf Harbot from Columbus, Ohio, who was captured.
“Olaf was a forward artillery observer when the North Koreans got him,” he said. “Olaf was a bit skinnier when released, but he was still able to get around.
“He joined the New Jersey State Troopers and worked for them for 30 years before retiring.“
Myers’ most famous story was the tale he told about “Sergeant Reckless.”
She was a Mongolian war horse purchased from a stable boy at the racetrack in Seoul for $250 by members of his 5th Marine Regiment, before Myers arrived in Korea.
“They used the horse to carry mortar rounds to the front line,” he said. “It was more than a mile she had to travel one way.”
One day she got out by herself and made the trip back-pack and all unassisted. From that point on all the Marines of 5th Regiment had to do was put .81 mm mortar rounds in her pack and send the horse to the front by herself.
The “Sergeant Reckless”’ story was published in the Saturday Evening Post and Life Magazine during the war. She was a decorated military war horse brought to the U.S. after the Korean War and made many TV appearances.
She lived to be 20 and died in 1968 in the USA.
“Sergeant Reckless” made a big impression on a young Marine fighting in a war a long way from home long ago.
Myers sailed into San Francisco six months before his enlistment was up. He was sent to Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, until discharged.
Like millions before him he took the G.I. Bill and went to college graduating with a physical education degree.
For the next seven years, he taught football and basketball at Teaneck High School near Hackensack, New Jersey.
He spent a dozen years working as a service representative for Buick. After that he became part owner of a Buick dealership. He got out of the car business and went into the van conversion business, then he sold pre-fab Richmond-made homes and finally he went in the insurance business for more than two decades and founded his own company.
Myers and his second wife, Jackie, moved to Venice in 2004 and retired. They have seven children between them from two marriages each. His children are: Donna, Russell, and Randy. Jackie’s children are: Joseph, John, Mary and Jim.