Category Archives: Korean War

ROBERT ‘BOB’ PEEBLES – A Peaceful man who has witnessed the horrors of war

Lt. Peebles USMC – Midway Island 1943


A Peaceful Man Who Has Witnessed the Horrors of War

By Todd Blomerth

Col. Bob Peebles USMC (Ret.) 2016

Bob Peebles was born on January 19, 1922, in the small town of Alvin, Texas. His father worked for Gulf States Utilities, and the Peebles family lived and around the Alvin area all his early years. Bob was the youngest of three children. His brother Howard (now deceased) was ten years older. Marjorie (Wyatt), who now lives in Edna, was four years older. Bob attributes much of his success academically to Marjorie. “She became my ‘teacher,’” he tells me. “We would walk home from school.  Starting when I was in the first grade, Marjorie would then sit behind an apple crate on the screened porch, and make me learn reading, arithmetic and writing. She was relentless.” Bob’s grandfather had passed down many classics, so Marjorie used some as her primers. He still remembers with clarity certain portions of stories by Charles Dickens, because they were found on pages holding his grandmother’s pressed flowers, and “we were told to be very careful with those flowers.”

Bob attended Alvin High School, and was voted ‘most popular boy’ in 1938 and “Best All Around” student in 1939. He played baseball and basketball, but his favorite sport was football. He graduated in 1939 and then enrolled at the University of Texas taking pre-med courses and playing freshman football. After the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, he rushed to enlist in the U.S. Navy. Although he “hadn’t been within five miles of an airplane,” he signed up for naval aviation training – and flunked the physical! He had varicose veins in and around his knees from playing football. Disheartened, he hunted down a physician to fix the supposed ‘disability,’ had minor surgery, and finally, on May 1, 1942, passed the physical. He was now officially a naval aviation cadet. For the next year, Bob moved through the various phases of aviation training starting in Luscombe single engine trainers, then graduating to PT-17 Stearman “Kaydets” (nicknamed “the Yellow Peril”), to Vultee “Vibrators,” and finally to the SNJ “Texans.” His class ranking allowed him the choice of Navy or Marine Corps aviation, so he chose the Corps. Part of Flight Class 9A (42-C), he received his aviator’s wings and commission as a 2nd lieutenant at Naval Air Station Corpus Christi.  On the way to combat aircraft, he took a short detour, flying C-47 cargo aircraft. He credits his time in that beloved aircraft’s cockpit for allowing him to hone his navigation skills. Apart from occasional ‘radio ranges’ there were few electronic aids in those days; no GPS, FM radios, or omni-directional beacons. Dead reckoning was a skill that would prove invaluable in the Pacific theater.

During flight training, Bob met Lesley Valentine Strandtman, whose family lived outside of Lockhart, Texas. Strandtman was a Fightin’ Texas Aggie and member of the Aggie Band. The two put college rivalries aside and became good friends. Besides a life-long friendship, Valentine’s younger sister, Adeline (“Addie”) Marie would eventually become Bob’s wife in 1946.

Bob’s next duty station was Cherry Point, N.C.  After a short time there, he was ordered to El Toro Naval Air Station, California where he transitioned into the Grumman F4F Wildcat, one of the first modern fighters able to take on the more nimble Japanese fighters. It still had some primitive mechanisms, such as having to retract landing gear by 27 hand cranks!

Lieutenant Peebles was assigned to Marine Corps VMF 114, a fighter squadron that was equipped with one of the premier American fight aircraft of World War II – the Vought F4U Corsair. The Japanese would soon describe the aircraft as “Whistling Death.” The new squadron’s top three officers were veteran combat pilots; the rest of the pilots were newly minted. VMF 114 was shipped to Hawaii where it continued training. The U.S. Navy had turned back a Japanese invasion of Midway Island in June 1942. The island’s location in the Northern Pacific was of strategic importance. As a result, combat units continued to defend the tiny patch of land. In December 1943, VMF 114 was shipped to Midway Island for three months. Then it was back to Oahu to prepare for shipment to Espiritu Santo, a staging area for the Americans’ advances against the Japanese. After additional flight and survival training. VMF 114 moved into its first combat area. Flying from the Green Island group near Papua New Guinea, the squadron suffered its first losses. The Japanese had created a huge base at Rabaul on the island of New Britain. By 1943 there were over 100,000 enemy stationed there. Although Rabaul would be ‘bypassed,’ American air and naval forces kept up unremitting attacks on it and on another enemy base at Kavieng. The Americans did not dare allow an exceeding well trained and increasingly desperate enemy any opportunity at disrupting our advances elsewhere. Weather, combat and air accidents resulted in VMF 114’s loss of nine pilots. The reality of war was now sinking in.

Over many beers during R&R in Sydney, Australia, the men designed their squadron’s new “Death Dealers” logo.

VMF 114 then was thrown into the maelstrom of the American landings in the Palau Islands.

General Douglas MacArthur’s advance into the Philippine Islands in 1944 initially required that his eastern flank be protected. The Palau Islands, some 800 miles to the east had several islands that were heavily fortified, and a plan had been in place to attack and neutralize the Japanese there. However, the American landings in the Philippines were moving ahead of schedule. Certain U.S. commanders expressed extreme doubts as to the need to invade the Palau Islands insisting that, given the circumstances, they could be bypassed and isolated. However, invasion plans were already laid on, and the Marines’ 1st Division and Army regimental combat teams were tasked with taking the Palau group’s Peleliu Island. It would set in motion a horrific battle, which to this day is still cloaked with controversy. Echelons of VMF 114 began flying northward to provide close air support on 9 September 1944. Guadalcanal, Bougainville, Emirau, Pityiliu, and Owl Island were rest and refueling points enroute. After an inadequate pre-landing naval bombardment, young Americans hit Peleliu’s beaches on September 15, 1944. They immediately found themselves in a living hell.

How does one begin to describe the protracted hell of Peleliu? Consider this: Peleliu was defended by nearly 11,000 Japanese troops. The enemy had rethought how to confront Americans in island fighting, and no longer would expend its men on massive suicide attacks. The plan was to make the Americans pay for every inch taken. The Palaus had been in Japanese hands since the end of World War I. Peleliu’s six square miles held a defensive system where virtually every square yard was covered by interlocking fields of fire. The island’s mountain range, the Umurbrogol, contained over 500 natural and man-made caves, as well as the command center. All beaches were mined, with extensive anti-tank traps and obstacles. All caves were connected with tunnels, and heavy artillery was hidden behind sliding steel doors. Caves and defensive bunkers were virtually invisible, concealed behind rock and vegetation. The Japanese even had a miniature railroad to move some artillery from firing point to firing point.

The Marine’s commander predicted the island would be taken in four days. It would take two months, and decimate the 1st Marine Division.

The squadron landed on Peleliu on September 26 (D+9) as the land battle raged less than two miles away. As Bud Daniel writes in A Cowboy Down: A WWII Marine Fighter Pilot’s Story: “All 24 Corsairs arrived in good shape. The howitzers were firing their large shells toward the caves on Bloody Nose Ridge. Marine infantry was busy fighting the ten thousand Japanese that were holed up in these caves. Peleliu looked to us like it was on a planet in another universe. Almost all of the trees had been blown to shred or splintered into pieces. The surface, nothing but coral rock, was also blown apart. We had been warned of snipers and we could hear large shells blasting, creating massive holes and generating lots of smoke. In the distance stretcher-bearers were trying to bring dead and wounded Marines down the coral precipices. It was a horrible battle and we were on the perimeter 1500 yards from the action. What I’m describing was continuous round the clock horror.” El Paso’s Tom Lea, an artist with Life magazine, was a changed man after witnessing Peleliu’s carnage. “The Two thousand Yard Stare,” is one of his most famous paintings. It captures a young Marine’s mental state as he prepares to go back into battle, after seeing many of his compatriots die:

The Two Thousand Yard Stare, by Tom Lea


The squadron’s pilots would load up with bombs or napalm, take off, often not even retracting their Corsairs’ landing gear, as some targets were fifteen seconds away. They would return to the airfield, reload, and fly another mission. For the next six months, VMF 114 labored tirelessly to support Marines and soldiers trying to root out the well-hidden and ferocious enemy. When time and circumstances allowed, “barge runs” were made in and around neighboring islands. Other Palau islands were also well defended. The carnage on Peleliu caused the U.S. to re-think invading most of them. But the Japanese on Koror, Babelthuap, Ngesebus, and Anguar were bombed and strafed continuously, to ensure no reinforcements would slip into Peleliu, and no aircraft could lift off. It was dangerous work for Bob’s squadron. The grind of battle, tension of close air support and enemy anti-aircraft artillery, long combat air patrols providing ‘cover’ for the invasion fleet, and stifling heat and humidity (Peleliu lies just seven degrees north of the equator), took its toll. Occasional beer runs to rear areas like Hollandia helped some, but not much. VFM 114 also flew long-range bombing missions – some as far as Yap Island, another enemy stronghold.

All the pilots suffered ‘gray-outs’ from the g-forces of dive bombing. Low flying attacks attracted flak, and on several occasions, Bob’s aircraft was holed by anti-aircraft shrapnel. On one occasion, Bob got shot up on a barge run over Babelthuap. Suddenly, his cockpit filled with smoke. American DUMBO aircraft (sea rescue float planes) were staged under air routes and pilots knew that if captured by the Japanese, they would be tortured and killed. Bob unbuckled his safety harness, threw back the cockpit canopy, and turned for friendly waters. As he prepared to bail out, the smoke cleared. He sat back down, hoping to make it home, It was a long thirty minutes of flying back to Peleliu, with Bob wondering when the engine would seize up. It didn’t. It turned out that shrapnel had struck his radio equipment. When his canopy was opened, the fire went out.

Others were not so lucky. The squadron’s revered commander, Major Robert “Cowboy” Stout died on March 4, 1945 on a strafing and bombing run over Koror. His death devastated the squadron.

The squadron rotated back to the United States in late March of 1945. Captain Peebles was then placed at Page Field, where he taught new pilots gunnery and rocketry at Parris Island. The war ended in August, and Bob was given a choice of staying in the military. His response was affirmative. The Marine Corps told him to go home, and he would be called in six months. As six months rolled around, he still hadn’t received his call back, so he decided he had better do something else with his life, so he re-enrolled at the University of Texas, and signed up to play football. Within a week, the Marine Corps called to invite him back into the service. “I was so sore from football practice,” he told me, “that I was never so happy to get a call in my life.”

Bob’s military career ‘took off’ after World War II. He married Adeline in Lockhart, Texas at the First Christian Church. They would have five children, Robert Jr., Bonnie, Sarah, Jo Leslie, and Patty. Fortunately, Addie proved to be a wonderful military spouse, as the growing family would move with Bob to his various military assignments. In 1950, North Korea invaded the south.  Captain (and later Major) Bob Peebles was shipped to Japan, and then to South Korea, and became the Executive Officer of a radar squadron. Then he returned to Cherry Point, N.C. The next years were fulfilling. As a major, he was appointed to the Joint Landing Force Board at Camp Lejeune, where future amphibious operations were studied. Then it was back to Korea in 1954. Duty stations included Kaneohe Marine Air Station in Hawaii. In 1959, he became squadron commander of VMF 232, flying F8 Crusaders. In 1967, Colonel Peebles served in Viet Nam as air officer attached to amphibious operations.

Bob retired in 1969, and in 1973 he and Addie moved to Caldwell County. They settled on some of the Strandtman land outside of Lockhart, living there until Addie passed away in 1999. Bob now lives in Bastrop with youngest daughter Patty. He is proud of his service to his country, but not one to brag.

The Distinguished Flying Cross is awarded to someone who “distinguishes himself or herself by heroism or extraordinary achievement while participating in an aerial flight.” He received that honor for airstrikes in the Rabaul, Kavieng, and Palau Islands areas during World War II. The Legion of Merit is awarded for “exceptionally meritorious conduct in the performance of outstanding services and achievements.” He was honored with this award for service during the Vietnam conflict.  When asked about his Bronze Star with V device, which is only awarded for combat heroism or for someone “exposed to personal hazard during direct participation in combat operations,” he only laughs and says, “I guess I got that for bravery.” The reality is more vivid: He was the acting commanding officer of a Ground Control Intercept unit near the North Korean port of Hungnam in December 1950. The Americans were in a fighting retreat from the Chosin Reservoir area in the bitter winter, as hordes of communist Chinese tried to surround them. Those who survived the near-debacle were evacuated through Hungnam, along with tens of thousands of Korean refugees. Captain Peebles evacuated the over two hundred men in his squadron on an LST just before the port facilities were destroyed as the enemy entered the area.

Destruction of Hungnam Harbor

Colonel Bob Peebles typifies the best of the “Greatest Generation.” If you see him, be sure to tell him thanks for his service to our country.











Todd Blomerth

            It was early 1953. The Allies were locked in vicious combat with communist forces along a line across the Korean peninsula.  Ten miles inside enemy lines, Captain Stan Reece was in the back seat on an AT6 “Texan” artillery spotter aircraft. After flying over thirty missions, the 6147th Group commander had made Captain Reece the group’s operations officer. The unit’s casualty rate was too high, and as operations officer, Captain Reece was told to check out each pilot, to ensure all were qualified and performing at the high standard needed. Stan sat in the rear seat of the two-seater aircraft, where an Army forward observer usually was placed. He was evaluating the skill and proficiency (we’ll call him Jones), trying to ensure Jones would not be another casualty while providing the US Army with an aerial platform for forward observers.

Very concerned about the Jones’s too-casual attitude about the enemy’s willingness to shoot down “low and slow” unarmed intruders, Captain Reece instructed him to make corrections. Before that could happen, the AT6 took 37mm antiaircraft rounds that damaged its right wing and flipped the aircraft onto its back. Smoke poured into the cockpit  Jones failed to respond to Reece’s intercom, and Captain Reece was forced to take over piloting the wounded airplane. Flinging open the canopy to clear blinding smoke, Captain Reece fought to regain control of the damaged aircraft,. He prayed the wounded bird would get the two back across the front lines before it came apart. Fortunately, it did.

“Where were you when I needed you to flying the airplane?” he frantically demanded of Jones. Finally responsive, Jones meekly replied, “I was scared.”. “Well I was too,” responded Captain Reece. “But you still have to fly the plane!”

As Captain Reece landed, the ground crew furiously waved him away from revetments and parked aircraft. It turned out that the anti-aircraft rounds had ignited white phosporus rockets under the aircraft’s wings, used to spot enemy positions. The ground crew’s well founded fear of an horrific explosion and fire was not realized. Fire crews extinguished the flames, as a forward observer pilot and his evaluator leapt from the plane. Captain Reece made sure Jones never flew with the unit again. It was a tough call, as Jones was a friend, but the only one to make.

Sixty-four years later, Colonel Stan Reece sat in his living room, telling me of his life. Now ninety six years old, he expresses some doubt as to why he is being interviewed. “I don’t think my career was all that interesting,” he tells me.

This is his story. You decide for yourselves whether his belief is correct.

Horace Stanley “Stan” Reece was born in the community of Martin’s Mill, Van Zandt County, Texas on September 21, 1921. He was the oldest of five children of Flake Elijah Reece and Nettie (Lancaster) Reece. Flake and Nettie taught school for a period of time.  Flake was also a farmer, but later moved the family to Athens, Texas where he owned a garage. Stan and his younger siblings, Charles, Billy, Bonetia and Mary Jo all graduated from Athens High School.  Like all children of the Depression, Stan knew about hard work. When he wasn’t in school, he worked for his dad as a mechanic. He graduated in 1940, and then worked construction in Ft. Worth and at Camp Wolters.

    Flight Cadet Reece – Eagle Pass, Texas

On June 30, 1942, Stan was sworn into  the United States Army Air Forces as an aviation cadet.  Because of training facility shortages, he was told to go home. “They said they’d call me in a month,” he recalls. He worked in his dad’s garage for almost six months before he received orders to report to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (later Lackland Air Force Base). Stan took to the air naturally. Without bragging, he calmly states, “I was a very good pilot.” After Basic at Brady, Texas and Primary at Waco Airfield, he finished second in his class at  Advanced training at Eagle Pass Army Airfield. With over twenty hours already in a high-powered P-40, he hoped for a combat assignment. Enamored with the monstrous P-47 Thunderbolt, he tried for an assignment flying that fighter. No luck. Then he applied for a unit flying the magnificent P-51 Mustang. Again, no luck. The Army Air Forces had other ideas. 2nd Lieutenant Stan Reece was assigned as an instructor pilot at Randolph Army Airfield, outside of San Antonio. It was a bitter disappointment, but just one of the breaks. He loved flying, and was a natural teacher.

                                       Edith Clark Reece

The stateside duty proved a blessing in disguise. In mid-1944 he was diagnosed with osteomylitis. Prior to the advent of strong antibiotics, the best someone with this dangerous bone infection could hope for was to survive with an amputation. Stan was lucky, as penicillin was coming available. It still took fifteen months in the hospital to be cured. “They didn’t know how long I had had the infection in my leg before it was discovered,” he recalls. By the time he was released in October of 1945, the war was over. The interminable time recovering was not all a loss. Stan met and married a beautiful Army officer (and nurse) – Edith Clark, from Prairie Lea. Their happy marriage lasted for sixty-six years. Edith died in 2011. They have two children. Ralph was born in 1946. Jacqueline was born in 1948.

Because of his skills, Stan was one of the small minority of pilots who were allowed to stay in the Army Air Force after World War II, as the services drastically reduced manpower. The newly married pilot, soon to be a father, was assigned to post-war Germany, first in Wiesbaden, and then in Kassal. He had several assignments.

Then the Soviet Union and its East German lackeys began closing road and canal access to areas of Berlin controlled by the French, British, and Americans. With one and one half million Soviet troops surrounding the former capital of Nazi Germany, Stalin felt sure that he could force the Western Allies out of Berlin, subjecting its citizens to the communist rule beling inflicted on East Germany. The Americans and British undertook to fly into the beleaguered city over 6000 tons daily, of food, supplies and coal. In was considered an impossible task.

Beginning in late June, 1948, with C-47 Dakotas, and later with C-54s and other, heavier transports, pilots flew narrow air corridors at three minute intervals, day and night, for almost one year. Airplanes got one shot at landing. Upon landing in West Berlin, engines were kept running, air crews remained in their transports, as Berliners unloaded the precious food and supplies. Then it was an immediate take-off and return to friendly territory.  A missed approach meant returning to West Germany, fully loaded. There was no room for error.

Despite Soviet harrassment, eventually the Airlift was moving over 11,000 tons a day! In April of 1949, the Soviets gave up. Berliners actually had a surplus of food and supplies. Stan Reece flew over twenty flights in and out of Berlin. His younger brother Charles, also an aviator, was part of the all-out effort. The Airlift is one of the proudest moments in our nation’s history.

Captain Reece was then assigned to Tinker Air Force Base as an instructor pilot. He had flown and mastered all sorts of aircraft. A small sampling: P-40, P-47, and P-51 fighters; A-26, B-25 bombers; C-47, C-54 transports, AT-6 trainer. Because of the rush to get pilots into aircraft in World War II, and the budget and manpower cuts afterward, training had suffered grievously. Stan recalls that “many of these pilots, including some who’d flown in World War II, weren’t trained properly.”  What better man to help fix the problem than someone of Stan’s stature and reputation?

Then, war in an unexpected place threw the United States in a frenzied effort to save South Korea from subjugation by North Korean, and later, Chinese communists. Bidding farewell to his wife and kids, Captain Reece arrived in the war-torn Korean peninsula in 1952. He was assigned to the 6147th Tactical Control Group. He flew unarmed AT-6 “Texans” over enemy lines, with an Army artillery forward observer onboard. In over twenty-five missions, he was shot at “plenty of times” but never hit.  That is, until he was a check pilot for “Jones,” and was almost shot out of the sky over  enemy lines.

In September of 1953, Captain Reece was back in the States. The 1950s were a transition period for the United States Air Force. Propeller driven aircraft were phased out, and jets of all types were tested. There were fewer straight winged aircraft, as jets’ speeds required swept wings. Thousands of aircraft were moved back to the continental United States from overseas. Some were scrapped, some were sold to friendly countries, some were given to Air National Guard units, and some were retrofitted. Stan was part of this complicated and often dangerous task. Between 1953 and 1962,  Stan took on hundreds of ferrying operations.


Assigned to the Military Air Transport Command (MATS) and its 1708th Ferrying Wing, he coordinated and flew transports to and from overseas air force units. One trip nearly got him killed. He and his crew flew a new C-119 to Japan. They exchanged it for one that was on its last legs. Taking off, the overloaded aircraft needed all the runway and overrun to make it into the air. Then, the crew discovered that the extra 900 gallon tank in the fuselage was leaking fuel. Stan was piloting a potential fiery bomb. It turned out that someone had installed a fuel vent pipe the wrong way. Remaining cool, Stan landed the plane without incident. The crew fixed the problem, and made it to Hawaii before the tired bird gave up the ghost. He and his crew caught another flight home.

After an assignment at Andrews AFB, Major Stan Reece and family spent three years in Japan, where he commanded the 531st Fighter Squadron flying F-100s. Later, as the Wing operations officer. He oversaw pilots flying RF-101s, and AD-102s. As he recalls, most of his pilots were “a bunch of kids.” They were lucky to have a proficient and demanding boss, who expected nothing less than the best, and made sure they achieved it. The Wing was equipped with nuclear weapons.

Stan knew that to move up the promotion ladder, it was expected that he be proficient in all areas of aviation. Often that meant accepting assignments to non-glamorous jobs. Because of his willingness and skill, he was often picked to ‘clean up’ situations, particularly those where pilots’ lives were in danger because of inefficiency or poor training standards. The 1960s found him and the family at Eglin AFB in Florida, in another of those roles.

His next assignment put Lieutenant Colonel Reece back in Germany. He was the first commander of the 7th Air Special Operations Squadron,  tasked with supporting the 10th Special Forces, one of the first Green Beret units. Comprised of a hodgepodge of propeller-driven aircraft, and designed for special operations, the squadron’s pilots and crews helped the SF forces conduct airborne training operations. “A large percentage of the Special Forces unit were first generation Americans from Eastern Europe. They spoke with thick accents. They hated the communists,” recalls Stan. Maximum flexibility best describes the operations of the Squadron. It was a heady time, as the United States continued its experiment with small and specialized forces. Stan spent two and a half years as squadron commander. His Army counterpart was “an old OSS [the World War II predecessor to the CIA] colonel. We got along famously.” Practice for insertions and extractions behind the Iron Curtain, providing air support for British Special Air Services commandos, conducting parachute drops, and retrofitting aircraft for unorthodox warfare made life, in Stan’s word, “interesting.” That has to be a understatement

Military spouses have unenviable roles to play. Stan was transferred many times during his career.  Even when assigned to one base, duties often took him away from his family. A full-time mom who often had to parent alone, Edith was the rock that kept the Reece family together. Edith’s duties expanded when Stan was a unit’s commanding officer.  She then became a mentor, advisor, and, occasionally, a shoulder to cry on. It was tough duty, and  deeply appreciated. Stan is unstinting in his praise of Edith. “Edith was a stabilizing influence on many young wives,” Stan recalls.


Between 1966 and 1968, Lieutenant Colonelr Stan Reece commanded the 492nd Tactical Fighter squadron, based in England. Flying F100s, the squadron participated in numerous NATO exercises. These included deployments to Bodo, Norway, Aviano, Italy, and Ishmir, Turkey.  Joint exercises, intended as training for possible response to Soviet aggression, came at the heighth of the Cold War. The training was arduous, and demanding. If war came, the Soviets had a numerical superiority that would test the very fiber of the North Atlantic Treaty Organization’s ability to defend the free countries in western Europe, Turkey, and Scandinavia.


It was inevitable that an aviator of Stan Reece’s ability would end up in Vietnam. Saying goodbye to Edith, he reported for duty at the Phu Cat Air Base. A new airfield, capable of jet powered aircraft, it was completed in late 1967. Lt. Colonel Reece was assigned as the 37th Tactical Fighter Wing’s operations officer. Part of the unit was the Iowa National Guard’s 174th Tactical Fighter Squadron. Equipped with the now aging and quirky F100s, the Wing flew interdiction and combat support missions. In just six months, Stan flew 135 combat missions. Most were in South Vietnam, but over thirty were in Laos, and there were a few into North Vietnam. Thankfully, he came through that experience in one piece. His final six months in Vietnam were at 7th Air Force Headquarters in Saigon.

Returning to the United States, newly promoted Colonel Stan Reece finished out a most colorful and exciting career in St. Louis, Missouri as Wing Advisor to the Air National Guard. He retired, after 30 years of service, in 1974.

Edith longed to return to her Texas and Caldwell County roots. In 1975, the Reeces purchased forty-nine acres of land outside of Luling. Anyone who knew him realized that Stan Reece wasn’t someone to sit back and let the world pass him by. He raised cattle. He served on the Luling Independent School District Board of Trustees for twenty-four years, of which nineteen he was the Board’s president. He joined the Luling Kiwanis Club in 1975 and remains active today. He was an officer on the Caldwell County Farm Bureau, and served on the Caldwell County Agent supervisory board for many years. Trying to track him a couple of weeks ago, I found him awash with plans for Night In Old Luling.

Stan will tell you his has been a blessed life. In 2014 at the young age of ninety three, he tied the knot for the second time when Madeline Manford, a dear family friend of many years and a widow, agreed to be his bride.

So this is a short-hand version of Stan’s life (so far). After reading it, I know you will agree that Colonel Stan Reece has indeed led a most incredibly interesting and fruitful life. He truly is a shining example of the best of the Greatest Generation. If you can catch him, please be sure to thank him for his service to his country and community.
















  TAB This year marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean Conflict. It has been called our ‘forgotten war’, although recent efforts have been made to inform an American public of what it was all about. These articles are a small effort in that direction.



                         Exhausted GI               


                    Pusan Perimeter                            


USMC Lt. Ike Fenton


As North Koreans pushed south, the US and South Korean armed forces (ROK) realized very quickly that there was only so much land they could trade for time. Re-supplying troops through the only port of Pusan in a shrinking perimeter crowded with hundreds of thousands of refugees interspersed with North Korean infiltrators was a daunting logistical nightmare.

As Far East commander in chief, General Douglas MacArthur oversaw all operations on the Korean Peninsula. The commander on the ground was General William Walker, who commanded the 8th Army. MacArthur in Japan, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff stateside hurried additional troops to the front. Ships were loaded out of Japan and the US West Coast with men, M26 Pershing tanks, heavy artillery, and ammunition. Carriers were loaded with A4D Skyraiders and F4U Corsairs. P-51s and other combat aircraft were re-located to Korea from Japan.

The retreat did offer some rays of hope – but not many. Logistically, the communist North Korean armed forces (KPA) was far from its base of supply in the North. The shrinking perimeter in the southeastern corner of the peninsula let the defenders draw closer to their supply bases while also narrowing the area they had to defend.

The quality and cohesiveness of most of the troops arriving at the port of Pusan improved as well, although many companies still had green recruits. Some of those units marched directly from disembarkation to the front lines.

As it advanced south the KPA also became more vulnerable to US air power, which in a matter of weeks decimated the KPA air force. F4U Corsairs, P-51s, A4D Skyraiders and other WWII vintage aircraft created havoc with ground forces advancing in daylight. As a result, the KPA was forced to resort to moving and attacking at night.

North Korea’s leadership was painfully aware of Allied air superiority and its own stretched supply lines and mounting losses. The KPA needed to make a breakthrough quickly before a strong defensive line in southeastern Korea could solidify. The right (or east side) of the defensive line that became known as the Pusan Perimeter was defended by ROK with US naval and air support. The left (or west) side of the 140 mile perimeter was held by US Army divisions, and the US Army’s 5th Regimental Combat Team. Many of these units had repeatedly been outflanked by the swiftly moving KPA, until establishing a thin line of resistance along the Naktong River.

The First Provisional Marine Brigade of 6500 men and with a large number of officers and NCOs with World War II Pacific combat experience (like Lt. Ike Fenton) was rushed from California, and used to plug gaps all along the west side of the perimeter. The marines’ tenacity surprised the KPA, which had become used to brushing aside ground resistance easily during the initial stage of the invasion.

The conditions were horrific. Temperatures in the summer reached 112 degrees. Water was scarce. Relentless fighting caused huge casualties. Men who passed out from heat exhaustion were evacuated, resuscitated and sent back into the fight. Every fighter was needed to deal with ongoing human wave attacks by a now desperate KPA that was trying to squeeze out the Pusan pocket before US reinforcements arrived in strength.

The KPA 83rd Motorcycle Regiment was caught in open ground by a Marine Corsair wing, which annihilated it in what became known as the “Kosong Turkey Shoot.” It was the first major victory for the Americans.

As the Perimeter shortened, the KPA lost its ability to maneuver around defending forces, and often chose to make frontal attacks on US and ROK forces. The KPA infiltrating its crack 4th Division across the shallow Naktong River along the western edge of the perimeter and then hit that side of the perimeter – hard. The attack made inroads through the rugged hills east of the river in an area that became known as the ‘Naktong Bulge’. General Walker’s 8th Army headquarters at Taegu was threatened, as was the route between there and Pusan harbor. The bulge had to be eliminated.  An initial attack by the Army was repulsed. General Walker ran out of patience. He told the Army 24th Division commander, “I’m giving you the Marine brigade, and I want this situation cleaned up-and quick!”

In vicious hand to hand fighting, the marines and soldiers of the 9th, 19th and 34th Infantry Regiments broke through. Supporting air attacks came so close to the lines that in some instances ejected shell casings from strafing fighters showered down on US troops. The KPA 4th Division was shattered and left over 1200 dead as it retreated from the bulge. Thanks to incredible teamwork, bravery, and air superiority the Americans won the day – barely.

By early September, and with more troops and equipment arriving daily, most of the Pusan perimeter lines stabilized. But not around Taegu. There, the First Cavalry Division fought off wave after wave of KPA assaults. If the KPA achieved a break-through, Taegu was doomed, as was the entire perimeter. Walker and his commanders were forced to put together scratch forces made up of tankers, engineers, and anyone else who could shoot a rifle. The soldiers held tenaciously.

As pressure on the line increased, the South Korean government relocated from Taegu to Pusan along with hordes of refugees. General Walker’s command post was within six hours of evacuation. If the perimeter failed, the only recourse was evacuation from the Korean peninsula. Apart from political costs, the wholesale slaughter of un-evacuated soldiers and civilians loomed as a horrific possibility.

The US Marine Corps’ contribution to the preservation of the Pusan Perimeter cannot be overstated. In the words of a British observer:

                       “The situation is critical, and Miryang [a town behind the Naktong Bulge on a main route to Pusan] may be lost. The enemy has driven a division-sized salient across the Naktong. More will cross the river tonight. If Miryang is lost…we will be faced with a withdrawal from Korea. I am heartened that the Marine brigade will move against the Naktong salient tomorrow. They are faced with impossible odds, and I have no valid reason to substantiate it, but I have the feeling they will halt the enemy…These Marines have the swagger, confidence and hardness that must have been in Stonewall Jackson’s Army of the Shenandoah. They remind me of the Coldstreams at Dunkirk. Upon this thin line of reasoning, I cling to the hope of victory.”

Historians now believe that had the KPA concentrated an attack on one point on the perimeter, it would have succeeded. Instead, it drained itself by attacking all along the line, bleeding itself dry in the process.

To turn the situation around, General MacArthur offered what appeared to be an insanely risky proposal: an amphibious landing at the port city of Inchon, west of the South Korean capital of Seoul, to take pressure off the Pusan Perimeter and take the invaders from behind. Inchon was a sleepy port and fishing town. A small harbor, mudflats, tidal surges and swift currents gave planners logistical nightmares. Additionally, Inchon was defended by the island of Wolmi-do. There would not be enough time to secure Wolmi-do and make landings on the mainland at the same high tide. The units hitting the beach on Wolmi-do would be on their own for 12 hours. American intelligence did not know how many KPA troops were defending the beaches and surrounding hills. MacArthur took the position that the very limitations argued for its usage. Who in their right mind would invade such a precarious position?

His plan was met with skepticism in Washington. In true MacArthur fashion, he did his best to put his operation in motion before the President and Joint Chiefs of Staff could veto it. While Washington vacillated, he presented the landings as a fait accompli. It is not much of an exaggeration to say that had Washington called off the attack, the invasion fleet would have had to turn around en route.

The KPA knew there was an amphibious landing in the works. The question was where. It was impossible to hide the preparations at Pusan and elsewhere. But they hoped to break through the US and ROK defenses before that happened. Kim Il Sung was warned by the Chinese of the danger of a landing at Inchon, but he scoffed at the possibility. As a result, the landing area remained poorly defended.


USS Valley Forge off Korea               


                              Inchon Landings

The bombardment preceding the Inchon landing of September 15th was long and intense. Inchon’s island outpost of Wolmi-do received the brunt of the initial attacks due to its strategic importance. If not taken, KPA forces on Wolmi-do could enfilade landings on the mainland. Although new intelligence indicated that Inchon and Seoul were lightly defended because the KPA had sent experienced troops to reinforce the attacks around Pusan, this information was not entirely trusted.


USMC Lt. Baldomero Lopez Leads the Way.  He is killed moments later


 Street Fighting in Seoul

After Wolmi-do was secured, with little opposition, the main landings occurred. Troops and marines were forced to use scaling ladders to climb the sea walls. The landing was a complete surprise. The outmatched North Korean defense started to crumble. The Inchon landing was a success of huge proportions. It has been viewed as the pinnacle of General Douglas McArthur’s career. British historian Max Hastings calls it “MacArthur’s masterstroke.” Unfortunately, it also reinforced his already inflated ego, which later doomed him to professional downfall.

The army, marine and ROK attackers pushed inland. The KPA stripped 10,000 soldiers from the Pusan perimeter to meet the threat in their rear but were still out-numbered 5 to 1. As the Inchon forces approached Seoul, resistance stiffened.  The capital was retaken only after bitter street fighting.

In the south, General Walker’s 8th Army awaited the Inchon landings. When the landings began it counterattacked. After a few false starts, the attacks succeeded, and dispirited KPA troops broke and ran. The North Koreans did not want to be caught between the two advancing forces. The ROK troops in the east end of the pocket pushed up the coast as the Inchon forces secured Seoul and pushed north across the 38th Parallel.

A great victory, which six weeks before seemed unthinkable, had just happened, and with surprisingly few casualties. But what to do next? Stop at the 38th Parallel, or continue north, liberating North Korea from the communists and unifying the peninsula? There was little or no resistance from the remnants of the KPA. Almost automatically, US and Allied troops followed the ROK army over that parallel in pursuit of the remnants of the KPA. Little thought was given by MacArthur or those in Washington to China’s threat to intervene in the war if the Allied troops approached the Chinese border. A disaster loomed.

(Bill Sloan’s The Darkest Summer [2009] has provided me with much information for this article. The Lt. Ike Fenton photo is by David Duncan, famous Life photographer.)

Next: The Chinese enter the war; Chosin Reservoir; Retreat; MacArthur fired.




This year marks the 60th anniversary of the beginning of the Korean Conflict. It has been called our ‘forgotten war,’ although recent efforts have been made to remind the American public what it was all about. These articles are a small effort in that direction.

The Korean peninsula protrudes from the Asian mainland directly west of southern Japan. Although the northern portion that became the People’s Democratic Republic of Korea is almost totally bordered in the west by China, that country’s portion of the peninsula also shares a small stretch of border with Russian Siberia. Korea was under the brutal occupation of Japan from 1910 until 1945. At the end of World War II, the Soviet Union entered the war against Japan. Its involvement lasted one week, and had little effect on the outcome of the war. Joseph Stalin hoped to get a piece of Japan as a result of his late entry into the war. He was not very successful (gaining only the barren Kuril Islands). However, Russia was able to make a huge land grab in mainland Asia. Hundreds of thousands of captured Japanese troops in Manchuria and Korea were marched off to the Gulag. Many were never seen again.


At the end of the war, Europe was the United States’ main concern. Unwisely, U.S. leaders agreed with Russia to share the post-war occupation of Korea, dividing the Russian and US zones along the 38th Parallel similar to the partition made in Germany. It proved to be a horrible mistake.

In October 1945, Syngman Rhee proclaimed himself head of a provisional government in South Korea. In the north, the Soviet Union installed a brutal communist strongman, Kim Il Sung. By 1948, there were two de facto countries. Rhee’s government was hardly the epitome of a ‘liberal democracy’, but it compared very favorably to the Soviet and Red Chinese supported north.

Korean tension was part of a larger world-wide drama. By the end of 1945, Stalin’s Soviet Union had effected a complete takeover of Eastern Europe. Stalin’s murderous regime was in full stride. The Soviet communists made no bones about their intent at world domination. “Uncle Joe” was no longer our ally against the Germans. Having allowed themselves to be duped by the Soviet Union as to its intentions in Eastern Europe, the West looked on in growing horror as entire countries were occupied and placed under the thumb of a totalitarian dictator who had cause the deaths of literally millions of his own countrymen  The ‘Iron Curtain’ had come down..  Then in 1949, the Red Chinese achieved victory over Chiang Kai-shek’s Nationalists who then fled to the island of Formosa. Was there anything that could stop this seemingly monolithic juggernaut? ‘Containment’ became US policy. But ‘containment’ was defined differently at different times. Containment bounced back and forth between just defending ‘strong points’ like Western Europe and Japan and fighting the communists wherever they cropped up, like in Vietnam. And in early 1950, very mixed signals were being sent as to the West’s will to defend South Korea from invasion. .

Apart from the U.S. signals to the communist bloc that its interests in Korea were limited, other serious problems existed. After World War II, US military was dismantled too quickly, without a lot of thought to the consequences. Attempts at ‘trimming the fat’ cut deeply into the muscle and fiber of the armed forces. The US and its allies failed to adequately arm the Republic of Korea (ROK) army, in part because of Rhee’s opposition to any occupation of the peninsula by outside countries and his saber rattling against the North. The military draw-down left South Korea with approximately 500 U.S. military advisors in country.  This was done in spite of intelligence that showed that the Soviets had provided substantial arms and training to the North Korean army and air forces (KPA).

The stage was set for war. Unfortunately, the United States and South Korea were caught totally off guard when it occurred. Flare-ups and border incursions along the 38th Parallel between the North and South had occurred since the division of the peninsula, but the events of the summer of 1950 escalated a tense stand-off into a conflagration.

On June 24th, the KPA struck south in a well coordinated attack with tanks, artillery, aircraft, and over 200,000 well trained troops. The poorly trained and armed southerners never stood a chance. Many soldiers were on leave to assist in the rice harvest. The ROK had no heavy artillery, aircraft, or tanks. South Korea’s capital, Seoul, was captured within days. Aided by large numbers of infiltrators posing as refugees, the KPA moved south without any appreciable opposition.

How would the US respond? President Truman sidestepped Congress by not asking for a declaration of war (a precedent that would get the U.S. in trouble in later years), and instead asked the U.N. to authorize a ‘police action’ by its members. In a rare display of solidarity, the United Nations Security Council condemned the invasion (the Soviet Union was not in attendance to veto the resolution). U.S. Army troops were pulled from comfortable occupation duty in Japan and thrown piecemeal into the maelstrom on the Korean peninsula. The result was predictable – poorly armed contingents of the 24th and 25th Infantry Divisions were chewed up trying to slow the North’s progress. The area controlled by the ROK and US was shrinking fast, and it was just a matter of time until South Korea ceased to exist.

Hurriedly the United States and it allies (Britain, New Zealand, Australia, Turkey and others) began assembling additional troops and equipment. The question was whether this effort would be in time. It would be a close run thing.

NEXT: The Pusan Perimeter and the Inchon Landing.